Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome may affect more than 1.2 million

Paula Abdul's story about her struggle with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) highlights this complex and poorly understood disorder.

CRPS/RSD is a neurological syndrome characterized by severe and relentless pain that, according to the McGill Pain Index, is greater than that experienced by cancer patients. A common complication after surgery or minor injury, CRPS/RSD is a major cause of disability-only one in five patients is able fully to resume prior activities. The continuing tragedy is that many physicians are not familiar with its telltale symptoms and do not consider the diagnosis in their examination. Experience has shown that early diagnosis promotes more successful outcomes for people with the syndrome.

Telltale Signs and Symptoms of CRPS 1/ RSD

CRPS/RSD is a diagnostic consideration for patients who have pain (moderate to severe) that is disproportionate to any inciting event (surgery, sprain, fracture, etc.) and has some of the following characteristics:

  • Pain is described as deep, aching, cold, burning, and/or increased skin sensitivity
  • The presence of an initiating noxious event (surgery, sprain, fracture, etc.)
  • Continuing pain (moderate to severe) associated with allodynia (pain due to stimulus that does not normally provoke pain) or hyperalgesia (excessive sensitivity to pain)
  • The pain is disproportionate to any inciting event.
  • Abnormal swelling in the affected part
  • Abnormal hair or nail growth
  • Abnormal skin color changes
  • Abnormal skin temperature (greater than 1°C asymmetry)
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Limited range of movement, weakness, or other motor disorders (paralysis, dystonia, etc.)
  • CRPS/RSD is excluded by the existence of conditions that would otherwise account for the degree of pain and dysfunction

Treatment options generally include pain management-nerve blocks and analgesics-plus physical therapy; psychological therapy helps people manage their pain.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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