Severe tetanus is characterised by muscle spasms and autonomic dysfunction. We recently reported the results of a randomised placebo controlled trial of magnesium sulphate infusions for the treatment of severe tetanus which showed magnesium was associated with improved muscle spasm and cardiovascular control. We hypothesised that magnesium controlled autonomic dysfunction by reducing catecholamine release and thus urinary excretion. Urinary adrenaline and noradrenaline concentrations were measured during the first 24 h of therapy in 180 adults with severe tetanus randomised to treatment with magnesium (n = 92) or placebo (n = 88). Magnesium therapy was associated with lower urinary adrenaline excretion and higher urinary noradrenaline excretion. High urinary adrenaline concentrations were associated with documented autonomic dysfunction. Patients given magnesium had significantly less autonomic dysfunction, required less cardiovascular stabilising drugs, and had lower urinary concentrations of adrenaline. These findings suggest adrenaline is important in the pathophysiology of severe tetanus and magnesium controls autonomic dysfunction by reducing adrenaline release.