Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Autonomic nervous system dysfunction predicts poor prognosis in patients with mild to moderate tetanus

Mohammad Wasay1*, Bhojo A Khealani1, Naasha Talati2, Rohmah Shamsi2, Nadir A Syed1 and Naseem Salahuddin3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan

2 Department of Medicine, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan

3 Department of Medicine, Liaquat National Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan

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BMC Neurology 2005, 5:2  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-5-2

Published: 31 January 2005



Autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysfunction is present in up to one third of patients with tetanus. The prognostic value of ANS dysfunction is known in severe tetanus but its value is not well established in mild to moderate tetanus.


Medical records of all patients admitted with tetanus at two academic tertiary care centers in Karachi, Pakistan were reviewed. The demographic, clinical and laboratory data was recorded and analyzed. ANS dysfunction was defined as presence of labile or persistent hypertension or hypotension and sinus tachycardia, tachyarrythmia or bradycardia on EKG. Patients were divided into two groups based on presence of ANS dysfunction (ANS group and non ANS group). Tetanus severity was classified on the basis of Ablett criteria.


Ninety six (64 males; 32 females) patients were admitted with the diagnosis over a period of 10 years. ANS group had 31 (32%) patients while non ANS group comprised of 65 (68%) patients. Both groups matched for age, gender, symptom severity, use of tetanus immunoglobulin and antibiotics. Twelve patients in ANS group had mild to moderate tetanus (Ablett I and II) and 19 patients had severe/very severe tetanus (Ablett III and IV). Fifteen (50%) patients in ANS group required ventilation as compared to 28 (45%) in non-ANS group (p = 0.09). Fourteen (47%) patients died in ANS group as compared to 10 (15%) in non ANS group (p= 0.002). Out of those 14 patients died in ANS group, six patients had mild to moderate tetanus and eight patients had severe/ very severe tetanus. Major cause of death was cardiac arrhythmias (13/14; 93%) in ANS group and respiratory arrest (7/10; 70%) in non ANS group. Ten (33%) patients had complete recovery in ANS group while in non ANS group 35(48%) patients had complete recovery (p= 0.05).


ANS dysfunction was present in one third of our tetanus population. 40% patients with ANS dysfunction had only mild to moderate tetanus. ANS dysfunction, irrespective of the need of mechanical ventilation or severity of tetanus, predicted poor outcome.