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tetany (tĕtˈənē), condition of mineral imbalance in the body that results in severe muscle spasms. Tetany occurs when the concentration of calcium ions (Ca++) in extracellular fluids such as plasma falls below normal. The nervous system becomes increasingly excitable, and nerves discharge spontaneously, sending impulses to skeletal muscles and causing spasmodic contractions. Mild tetany is characterized by tingling in the fingers, toes, and lips; acute tetany, consisting of severe muscular contractions, tremors, and cramps, can result in death. Abnormally low extracellular calcium ion concentration can result from failure of the parathyroid glands to release parathyroid hormone, the substance responsible for the regulation of calcium concentration in the body; a deficiency in vitamin D, which facilitates calcium ion absorption from the gastrointestinal tract; or alkalosis, an excessively alkaline state of body fluids resulting from persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, or excess activity of the hormone aldosterone. Most forms of tetany can be treated with calcium, vitamin D, and a controlled diet. Muscle tetany is also caused by the pathogenic bacterium Clostridium tetani in the disease tetanus.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a spasm, or cramp, caused by a disturbance in the body’s calcium metabolism. Such spasms may be parathyroprival—that is, they may result from insufficiency or complete absence of function of the parathyroid glands (either because of surgical removal or because of an inflammation or other pathological condition)—or may be caused by fluid loss owing to repeated vomiting or diarrhea (also called gastrointestinal tetany).

The principal manifestations of tetany are tonic muscular spasms of varying duration in different parts of the body, increased electromechanical excitability of the motor and sensory nerves, and increased excitability of the autonomic nervous system leading to the malfunction of internal organs. During an attack of tetany, sudden death may occur from asphyxia or heart failure. In latent tetany, an attack may be provoked by some factor such as infection or intoxication. Treatment of tetany is based on replacement therapy—that is, the injection of such substances as parathyroid hormone or calcium preparations.


Shereshevskii, N. A. Klinicheskaia endokrinologiia. Moscow, 1957. Pages 116–31.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A state of increased neuromuscular irritability caused by a decrease of serum calcium, manifested by intermittent numbness and cramps or twitchings of the extremities, laryngospasm, bizarre behavior, loss of consciousness, and convulsions.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.