Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, also known as complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, is a disease that causes chronic pain. In addition to the pain, the area or limb that is affected may swell up and change in appearance. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is considered to be a progressive disease, one that worsens instead of improving as time goes on. There is no known cure for CRPS, but some treatment can be helpful for easing symptoms. The condition has gone into remission in some cases.
Cause of CRPS
Although doctors are unsure of the cause of CRPS, the condition usually begins with a minor to major injury. Type I CRPS is commonly the result of an injury that affects a limb or external part of the body. Development of Type II CRPS follows nerve damage. Type II CRPS is sometimes called causalgia.
Common causes for CRPS include:
- Car accidents
- Medical errors
- Heart attacks
CRPS can be triggered by just about any type of injury. The first indication of reflex sympathetic dystrophy that a patient will experience is pain that is disproportionate to the injury. The pain will be lasting, and worsen as the days go by. Doctors have found that this pain and the accompanying inflammation and changes in skin temperature and color begin in the central nervous system, or CNS.
The body responds to the injury by sending the pain signal to the CNS. The CNS sends the signal to the immune system to repair the damaged tissue or nerve. When afflicted with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, the body does not stop sending the pain signal, and the immune system keeps working after the injury has been healed. The unnecessary and continued immune response is what causes the limb or area to swell and change in appearance.
Symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
The most common symptom of reflex sympathetic dystrophy is the intense and constant pain. Besides that, the symptoms of CRPS can vary from case to case. The symptoms of CRPS can also change as time passes. If the effected limb or area begins to change from red and irritated to pale and somewhat numb, the condition may be reaching the point where it will become irreversible.
Common symptoms of CRPS include:
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
- Sensitivity to touch
- Color change-can be red, blue, blotchy, pale
- Changes in skin texture
- Muscle spasms
- Decreased mobility in affected limb
Treatment of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy responds best to treatment when it is started shortly after contracting the disease. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is highly unpredictable, and some patients may respond well to treatment while others may show little or no signs of improvement. In rare cases, patients have gone into remission without treatment. Waiting for this is not recommended, however, as the disease will usually worsen if not treated.
Dealing with chronic pain may cause psychological suffering, so stopping the pain as early as possible can help patients to keep a positive mindset and be beneficial to healing. It is not uncommon for patients with chronic pain disorders to develop emotional disorders, such as depression. If this happens, the emotional disorder must be treated along with the CRPS. Studies show that emotional state can dramatically affect how well patients respond to treatment.
Doctors have found the most success with patients that were given a mixture of drug therapy and physical therapy. Medications prescribed include corticosteroids, NSAIDS, pain relievers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxers. The specific medication that is prescribed is based on the patients’ symptoms and medical history.
Physical therapy usually includes a program to increase mobility and range of motion using exercise and stretching. Patients may also benefit from massage or tactile sensitization. Often the patient is told to put ice or heat on the affected area to reduce swelling. A topical medication may be prescribed to reduce sensitivity. The combination of drug and physical therapy will at the very least prevent patients’ conditions from worsening due to atrophy or stiffness.
If a patient is diagnosed with CRPS, the patient should follow medical advice. If the patient believes that the condition was caused by an automobile accident, an attorney should be contacted. An RSD attorney can help patients to understand what legal action may be taken, and what portion of medical expenses may be the responsibility of the person that is at fault for the accident.
“Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Fact Sheet.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12 Jul 2013. Web. 14 Sep 2013. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/reflex_sympathetic_dystrophy/detail_reflex_sympathetic_dystrophy.htm>.
“Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical education and Research, 21 Mar 2011. Web. 14 Sep 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/complex-regional-pain-syndrome/DS00265/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs>.
“CRPS.” American RSD Hope. American RSD Hope, n.d. Web. 14 Sep 2013. <http://www.rsdhope.org/crps.html>.