I'm just being stupid . . . right?
October 12, 2006 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Tetanus and hypocondria: Am I just making myself sick?

I'm rather a hypocondriac and generally I can make myself feel better. I'm having a bit of trouble this time.

I cut myself on something rusty on Sunday morning--the cut wasn't deep but the object was dirty and it was wet. My tetanus shot was just out of date (last one was 1996), so I went ahead and got a booster from the doctor on Tuesday. Now, today, the left side of my face & jaw feels a little funny & tight. Am I correct in thinking that (a) there is no way I have freaking tetanus and (b) fixating on this is what is making it worse, because by focusing on them I am making them clench?

(I could call the nurseline, but I'd rather not.)
posted by dame to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Purely anecdotal - I've had two tetanus jabs and they both produced mild tetanus-like symptoms in my arm, shoulder and jaw on the left side (my injection side). Actually, with the most recent one the symptoms weren't so mild and I was somewhat disabled for a couple of days. The symptoms went away.
posted by altolinguistic at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2006

symptoms were stiffness, aching and limited movement (I couldn't lift my arm high enough to play the violin, which for many wouldn't be a problem but was for me).
posted by altolinguistic at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2006

Yeah, I got jabbed in the tush.
posted by dame at 10:37 AM on October 12, 2006

I got jabbed on Sunday. No reaction. Sometimes a hypochondriac really is sick.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:40 AM on October 12, 2006

I would wager slightly toward hypochondria. Your original tetanus shot is almost off the radar, but if you're healthy you might still be within range. Also you said the cut wasn't deep, so if it was cleaned well you should be ok. I'm not sure whether the new booster will help or not.

If it makes you feel better, the annual incidence of tetanus in the U.S. is running about 1 case in 5 million.
posted by zek at 10:44 AM on October 12, 2006

Assuming that consensus here is you're unlikely to really have tetanus: Try to get through today without panicking, and have a couple of beers tonight -- or something else that will act as a mild muscle relaxant. Take a hot bath; watch an old movie with no tense-making scenes. Get lucky? Get a good night's sleep (bath+beer+boring book). If all this doesn't unclench your jaw, call the nurse line tomorrow.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:00 AM on October 12, 2006

It'll probably ease your mind to read the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases tetanus factsheet here (pdf):


You don't have tetanus. You got a booster about 10 years after your primary series of immunizations, so that's good. Only 50 people die in the US every year of tetanus and most of them are elderly, diabetic, or otherwise in frail health.

However, waaay more than 50 people every year make their jaw tense by stressing out. Which is more likely? That you're doing that, or that you're about to die of a disease that only affects 1 person out of 5 million? A disease that you've been immunized against?

The 10 year booster recommendation is conservative - most people's initial vaccination lasts longer than that. So even if you hadn't had the booster, odds are excellent that you would still be immune.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:10 AM on October 12, 2006

First of all, thank you SO much for not being this person.

As a hypochondriac (who also really has a lot of real obscure problems too, I swear), I find that the best thing I can do in these cases is talk about my concerns to as many of my friends as possible, especially the ones who will all laugh incredulously at me and make me see how silly I'm being. A healthy dose of not being allowed to take it so seriously will counteract the complete certainty your brain builds up that something is wrong. It's good to have people who will help you induce a lightening-up procedure, stat.

Note that these people are exactly the ones you should avoid when something really is indisputably wrong. When I broke my rib this summer, I endured endless skepticism and laughter because I had no bruise, no cast, and no bone sticking out anywhere, any of which would have contributed to someone believing what awful pain I was in.

Now you're going to HAVE to come to the meetup to prove you're okay so that we all aren't wondering whether you're lying on the bathroom floor, rigid as a board and eyes rolling madly.
posted by hermitosis at 11:21 AM on October 12, 2006

Just want to point out that rust has little if any relation to tetanus.
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on October 12, 2006

Thanks guys. And smackfu, it was more dirty (in this case rusty) + wet and bacteria laden that worried me.
posted by dame at 11:41 AM on October 12, 2006

If you are clenching your teeth with anxiety about tetanus, that could cause jaw pain.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:41 AM on October 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Tetanus and many other infections are an issue with deep puncture wounds, not with rust. The "rusty nail" scare is due to the fact that metal objects are likely to be wounds deep enough that bacteria will thrive in the absence of cleaning.

If you just cut yourself and it's a cleanable cut, you're not going to get tetanus.
posted by mikeh at 11:52 AM on October 12, 2006

That's not what the factsheet says.
posted by dame at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2006

Some folks have pissy immune systems. My childhood reactions to vaccinations were fairly intense - my diptheria-tetanus jab made my arm swell up so much they had to cut my shirt open so I could wear clothes to school. Even to this day, if I get a vaccination, I'll have some mild symptoms a day or two after. My latest tentanus shot left my arm sore and a tat swollen and some muscles tight.
posted by adipocere at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2006

What mikeh said. Tetanus is caused by an anaerobic bacterium, so just a shallow cut isn't going to allow them to grow in the absence of oxygen.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2006

adipocere: wouldn't that mean that your body overreacted to the immunisation, and therefore your immune system is stronger than normal?
posted by claudius at 4:02 PM on October 12, 2006

claudius - Pretty much, yeah. When I get a cold, I'll have a small sniffle, then an hour later a raging fever. As long as I don't fight it, I just load up on some water, some powerade, and sleep, and I'll be more or less okay about a day later. It just seems to react rather harshly.
posted by adipocere at 6:55 PM on October 12, 2006

You could easily be (and likely are) experiencing side effects from the shot.

Tetanus shots are notoriously painful after the fact. If the symptoms are worse in a few days, go back to the doctor.

For now, don't worry about it. Immunizations contain trace elements of the illness they're intended to cure.

Think: flu shot. Flu-like symptoms are common afterward an immunization. Similarly, tetanus-like symptoms are very common after a tetanus shot.
posted by owl at 6:15 AM on October 13, 2006

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