Symptoms of Tetany, Causes and Its Treatment

Tetany treatment
Medically reviewed by Dr. Sohail Cheema


Tetany is a medical condition that leads to painful muscle contractions. It typically begins in the jaw and then progresses to the rest of the body.

Hence, to know its types, symptoms, causes, prevention, and treatment methods, read this article till the end.

What is Tetany?

Tetany is a medical condition consisting of the involuntary contraction of muscles that leads to painful muscle cramps, larynx, and sensory disturbances. It is caused by low blood calcium levels or electrolyte imbalance. High magnesium or calcium supplements can reduce the occurrence of Tetany.

Types of Tetany

Latent (spasmophilia): It is caused by intracellular magnesium deficiency and increased respiratory drive. The muscle spasms can be painful and affect the hands, feet, face, and neck. Other symptoms of latent Tetany may include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, anxiety, and irritability.

Manifest Tetany: Manifest Tetany refers to a more severe form of Tetany in which the symptoms are more pronounced and may include muscle cramps, spasms, and contractions, as well as tremors, muscle weakness, and twitching. The symptoms include numbness around the mouth and prickling of the hands and feet.

Symptoms of Tetany

Some common mild symptoms of Tetany include:

  • Numbness around the mouth 
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Paresthesia (burning sensation in the hands and feet)
  • Shortness of breath

Some severe symptoms of Tetany include:

  • Laryngospasms can cause difficulty breathing.
  • Bronchospasms (when the muscles lining your lungs’ airways tighten).
  • Painful muscle cramps.
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of vision 
  • Paralysis 
  • Tetany seizures
  • A diminished cardiac function, such as an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

While Tetany is often not life-threatening, it can sometimes lead to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that causes muscle breakdown or death.

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What Causes Tetany?

Tetany is a sign of hypocalcemia, indicating low blood calcium levels. Maintaining stable calcium levels is essential for the adequate functioning of many cellular processes, such as neurological activities, muscular contractions, hormonal secretions, and blood coagulation. A significant cause of hypocalcemia is Parathyroid gland dysfunction, which can result in decreased parathyroid hormone production, which regulates the body’s calcium levels.

Tetany caused by vitamin D deficiency is rare and typically occurs in babies between 3 and 6 months old.

However, low vitamin D levels can also lead to hypocalcemia. A deficient diet, intestinal malabsorption, lack of sunlight exposure, or chronic kidney failure, among other causes, can cause vitamin D deficiency. 

Apart from hypocalcemia, other metabolic irregularities, such as electrolyte imbalances and other disorders affecting the acid-base balance, can also cause Tetany. The cause of Tetany often involves a combination of metabolic abnormalities rather than a single cause.

  • Hypomagnesemia: It happens due to low magnesium levels in the blood. Magnesium is an important electrolyte that is a vital part of many body functions. Chronic disease, heavy alcohol intake, gastrointestinal issues, kidney issues, and other conditions can cause hypomagnesemia.
  • Hypokalemia: It happens due to low potassium levels in your blood. Potassium is an electrolyte crucial for adequately functioning nerves, muscle cells, and the heart. Common causes of hypokalemia include diuretics, vomiting, diarrhea, and chronic kidney disease.
  • Respiratory alkalosis: It happens when you breathe too fast or deep, causing your lungs to get rid of too much carbon dioxide. It can decrease the carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which then becomes alkaline. Hyperventilation due to stress or anxiety can also lead to Tetany.
  • Certain medications: Some medications, such as diuretics or phenytoin, can interfere with calcium levels in the body.

Tetany in Newborn Babies 

Tetany may occur at any time during the newborn period of babies. It should be suspected whenever a newborn infant’s hypersensitivity, twitching, or convulsion occurs. Diagnosis occurs when the serum calcium is below 8 mg. per 100 c.c. It is considered that hypocalcemic Tetany most probably happens with a notable frequency in newly born babies to mothers with diabetes.

Some of the common causes of neonatal Tetany include:

  • Low levels of calcium in the mother during pregnancy: 
  • Premature birth: 
  • Excessive magnesium levels
  • Calcium-phosphorus imbalance
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Tetany and Hypocalcemia

Tetany and hypocalcemia are closely related conditions. Hypocalcemia is a medical condition in which the blood calcium levels are below average, and Tetany is a manifestation of hypocalcemia characterized by muscle spasms, twitching, and contractions. Tetany occurs because the low calcium levels in the blood interfere with the normal functioning of the nervous system, leading to muscle spasms and other symptoms.‌

Symptoms of hypocalcemia include:

Some people may not experience symptoms, but it can be dangerous for others. Warning signs of Tetany include the following:

  • heart problems 
  • laryngospasms
  • carpopedal spasm

Medical attention should be sought immediately for any symptoms of Tetany or hypocalcemia, as these conditions can be severe and lead to complications if left untreated. In order to achieve the best outcome, early diagnosis and treatment are essential.

How Does Tetany Differ from Clonus?

Muscle spasms that occur rhythmically and uncontrollably are known as clonus reflexes. It happens due to a permanent injury in the upper motor neurons responsible for carrying the electrical impulses that start and control the body’s movement. On the other hand, Tetany involves involuntary muscle spasms and other symptoms resulting from calcium deficiency and electrolyte imbalances.

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Difference Between Tetany and Seizures 

Both are distinct conditions, but severe tetany cases can cause seizures.

A seizure is a clinical condition in which you can have a temporary, unrestrained surge of electrical activity in the brain. When this happens, the affected brain cells uncontrollably shoot signals to other brain cells around them, which overloads the affected areas of the brain.

That overload can cause various symptoms or effects, including uncontrolled muscle movements. Tetany generally involves uncontrolled muscle contractions, but it is caused by an electrolyte imbalance, not a wild surge of electrical activity in your brain.

Treatment for Tetany typically involves increasing the level of calcium in the blood, while treatment for seizures may include medications, surgery, or lifestyle changes, depending on the underlying cause.

Difference Between Tetany and Cramps

Tetany and cramps are two different medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms but have different underlying causes and treatments.

Tetany is a manifestation of hypocalcemia, a condition in which the blood calcium levels are below normal. Tetany is characterized by muscle spasms, twitching, and contractions and can also cause tremors, muscle weakness, and tingling in the hands and feet.

Cramps, on the other hand, are involuntary contractions or spasms of the muscles that can cause pain and discomfort. Several factors, including muscle strain, dehydration, mineral deficiencies, and certain medical conditions, can cause cramps.

The key difference between Tetany and cramps is that low calcium levels in the blood cause Tetany. In contrast, cramps can be caused by various factors, including muscle strain, dehydration, and mineral deficiencies. Treatment for Tetany typically involves increasing the level of calcium in the blood, while treatment for cramps may include stretching and massaging the affected muscle, hydration, and dietary changes.

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Difference Between Tetany and Tetanus

The names might sound similar, but the conditions are different. Tetanus, also known as Clostridium tetani, is a bacterial infection caused by contaminated injuries and cuts. Tetanus bacteria are everywhere, including manure, soil, and dust. It can cause painful muscle spasms. Severe complications can be life-threatening if not treated on time.

The spores can get into your body through scratched skin or cuts, typically through wounds. Tetanus bacteria are most likely to infect inevitable cracks in the skin. These include:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt
  • Punctured wounds 
  • Burns
  • Pressure from another entity or compression between two heavy objects can lead to crushing injuries.
  • Injuries with dead tissue
  • insect bite
  • dental infections.

 In comparison, Tetany involves involuntary muscle spasms and overly stimulated peripheral nerves. Low calcium levels and electrolyte imbalance cause it. Certain drugs, such as lithium, or diseases like diabetes or hypothyroidism, can also cause it. Unlike other diseases, Tetany can’t be spread from one person to another.

Complications Caused by Tetany

Because Tetany can be due to a severe condition, not seeking treatment can lead to serious complications and permanent damage.

Once your healthcare provider has identified the underlying cause, you need to follow the treatment plan your healthcare provider explicitly designed to reduce the risk of potential complications. Such complications may include the following:

  • Respiratory distress: Tetany can cause respiratory distress, as muscle spasms and contractions can interfere with normal breathing.
  • Cardiac arrhythmias: Low calcium levels in the blood can lead to heart rhythm disturbances, which can be severe and life-threatening.
  • Seizures: Tetany can cause seizures, which are sudden, uncontrolled electrical discharges in the brain.
  • Coma: In severe cases, Tetany can cause unconsciousness, leading to coma.
  • Pneumonia: Tetany can cause swallowing difficulties, increasing the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
  • Bone fractures: Tetany can cause weakness and muscle wasting, increasing the risk of fractures and other orthopedic problems.

Diagnosis of Tetany

Tetany is often suspected in people with muscle cramps, paresthesia affecting their hands and feet, and numbness around their mouth. These symptoms can help in the diagnosis of Tetany. In some people, symptoms of Tetany may not be as clear, and the diagnosis may require high clinical suspicion. In some cases, other clinical signs, such as Trousseau’s, can indicate hypocalcemia-related Tetany. 

A tetany diagnosis is typically confirmed by evidencing low blood calcium levels. Furthermore, blood levels of parathyroid hormone (PTH), vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium may help identify an individual’s underlying cause of Tetany.

In addition, Chvostek and Trousseau signs are provocative tests for the diagnosis of latent Tetany.

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Prevention of Tetany

You may not be able to prevent Tetany altogether if you have an electrolyte imbalance caused by an underlying condition, but early diagnosis and treatment can make a significant difference.

You must talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing early signs of Tetany, such as numbness around your mouth and muscle contractions. Early treatment of electrolyte imbalance can prevent more severe and potentially life-threatening tetany symptoms.

How is Tetany Treated?

The short-term goal for treating Tetany includes fixing the electrolyte imbalance. The long-term plan for treating Tetany involves diagnosing and treating the underlying medical conditions causing it.

In case of mild hypocalcemia, your doctor may suggest the following treatments to restore your blood calcium levels:

  • Calcium supplements.
  • Vitamin D supplements such as calcitriol and alfacalcidol.
  • Magnesium tablets.

If hypocalcemia is severe, you may need other prescription medications or therapies to treat it.

Severe acute tetany requires immediate medical treatment, usually involving IV calcium replacement and other therapies.

When to Consult a Doctor?

Ignoring the fact that tetany is a serious complication and may lead to other medical complications is injustice with your health. It is recommended to consult a doctor as soon as possible inorder to get the disease treated. 

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FAQs About Tetany Answered By your Doctor Online Team

Is Tetany painful?

Severe Tetany can cause painful muscle cramps and spasms of the larynx. It can also cause difficulty with breathing.

Can you get rid of Tetany?

Tetany can be cured. Severe cases require immediate medical attention. It typically involves IV calcium replacement and other therapies. Not seeking medical treatment can cause permanent damage.

Is Tetany a seizure?

Tetany and seizures are two different conditions. A seizure is an uncontrolled burst of electrical activity in your brain that can cause behavioral and movement changes. In comparison, Tetany involves involuntary muscle contractions.

What is the most common cause of Tetany? 

The most common causes of Tetany include hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia, and hypokalemia. Low blood calcium levels most often cause it.

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