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(tĕt`ənē), 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 glandsparathyroid glands
, four small endocrine bodies, located behind the thyroid gland, that govern calcium and phosphorus metabolism. These four masses of tissue (each about the size of a pea) are difficult to distinguish from the thyroid and are often embedded in it.
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 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 aldosteronealdosterone
, steroid secreted by the cortex of the adrenal gland. It is the most potent hormone regulating the body's electrolyte balance. Aldosterone acts directly on the kidney to decrease the rate of sodium-ion excretion (with accompanying retention of water), and to
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. 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 tetanustetanus
or lockjaw,
acute infectious disease of the central nervous system caused by the toxins of Clostridium tetani. The organism has a widespread distribution and is common in the soil, human and animal feces, and the digestive tracts of animals and humans;
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Hypocalcemic tetany in the newborn as a manifestation of unrecognized maternal primary hyperparathyroidism.
Phosphate enemas may cause hyperphosphatemia and hypocalcemic tetany in these patients and should therefore be used with caution in most patients and should not be used in children 3 years of age or younger.
Disadvantages of formula feeding include diarrhea, colic, gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, meningitis, asthma, hives, allergies, pneumonia, eczema, obesity, arteriosclerosis, dermititis, growth retardation, hypocalcemic tetany, neonatal hypothyroidism, necrotizing enterocolitis, SIDS, and lead accumulations.
Because the disease portends significant morbidity and mortality, it must be rapidly recognized and differentiated from illnesses with a similar presentation, such as hypocalcemic tetany, meningitis, rabies, drug withdrawal, strychnine poisoning, and dystonic drug reaction.