Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS) and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) are two common names for pain syndromes that occur when the sympathetic nervous system goes awry.
In the past, this syndrome has also been called causalgia, Sudeck's atrophy, post traumatic dystrophy, shoulder hands syndrome and reflex neurovascular dystrophy.
The sympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic nerves are part of the autonomic nervous system, which governs involuntary movements and body processes. In general, the sympathetic nervous system causes responses to occur - like making your heart beat faster when you're frightened.
These actions are balanced by the other part of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system - which, in this example, makes your heart slow down when the fear has passed.
In rare cases, trauma (such as that caused by injury or surgery) can lead to an abnormal response from the sympathetic nervous system that causes RSDS.
RSDS has specific characteristics:
Pain A constant burning and/or aching pain in the extremities is common. Patients also often find that even a light touch on the skin feels painful, and if they are touched repeatedly the pain becomes more severe with each contact. There can also be muscle tenderness and spasms, and sharp jabs of pain.
Skin changes Patients often experience visible changes in the skin, hair, and fingernails near the affected region. Skin in the region may also feel unusually hot and/or cold. Edema is also common.
Movement disorders Patients may feel a stiffness and pain when moving, and may have muscle tremors. Severe muscle spasms can leave hands or feet disabled in cramped up positions.
For most people with RSDS symptoms will go away over time, but sometimes symptoms spread away from the initial site and affect a whole limb or even the whole body. In rare cases, the pain, skin changes and motor symptoms can persist for years and become debilitating.
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