CRPS/RSD Can Cause Many Symptoms

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) was formerly known in medical circles as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). It is a rare disorder of the sympathetic nervous system and it is characterized by severe pain. (It can be anywhere in the body, but more often is present in a limb.)

Other symptoms include:

  • Burning, stabbing, grinding or throbbing feelings
  • Muscle spasms
  • Local swelling
  • Sensitivity to things such as water, touch and vibrations
  • Abnormally increased sweating in the region
  • Changes in skin temperature (usually hot but sometimes cold) and color (bright red or a reddish violet)
  • Softening and thinning of bones
  • Joint tenderness or stiffness
  • Restricted or painful movement

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Are You In The Hot Or Cold Group?

CRPS can worsen over time and it is widely recognized that it can be heightened by emotional or physical stress. It also varies in severity and duration.

Patients are frequently classified into two groups based upon temperature: "hot" CRPS in one group and "cold" CRPS in the other group. Roughly 70 percent of patients have the "hot" type, which is said to be an acute and short-term form of CRPS. Alternatively, cold CRPS is said to be indicative of a more chronic CRPS and prognosis is less favorable.

The Exact Cause Of This Disease Is Unknown

Doctors are not 100 percent certain of the cause of this disease, but excessive or abnormal responses of portions of the sympathetic nervous system are thought to be responsible for the pain associated with CRPS. Frequently, CRPS may be misdiagnosed as a painful nerve injury. Affected skin may be extremely sensitive to touch and to hot or cold temperatures. The affected limb may perspire excessively and be warm to the touch.

The exact cause of CRPS itself is not fully understood, but seems to develop due to trauma, surgery, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, infection or radiation therapy. The symptoms of CRPS usually initially manifest near the site of the initial injury.

The Symptoms Can Shift From Area To Area

Where the disorder is unique is that it can jump around the body. For instance, a person may fracture their right arm in a car accident and thereafter develop CRPS. However, several months later they may experience similar symptoms in their left leg, which was not affected in any way in the auto accident. The symptoms can appear anywhere in the body and 35 percent of people report symptoms throughout their whole body.

Can This Unique Disorder Be Treated?

Many general practitioners are not experienced with RSD, and as a result they misdiagnose the disorder. The result is that the patient spends months getting treatment for an injury they don't have. Misdiagnosis or late diagnosis can complicate the outcome of CRPS.

In contrast, if the disease is properly and timely diagnosed, treatment by a pain specialist or neurosurgeon can be quite effective. Treatments for CRPS are complicated, varying from physical therapy to drug intervention, psychotherapy, nerve block procedures, spinal cord stimulation and even surgery.

Is It Psychological?

The initial answer is no. Many patients grow frustrated after the disease appears. As if the pain is not bad enough, the wrong doctor tells them the symptoms are in their head. CRPS is not caused by psychological factors, yet the constant pain and reduced quality of life has been known to cause psychological problems (such as increased depression and anxiety).

The compounded effect of the pain itself and the depression often creates impaired social and occupational function. In addition, the poor quality of life, for some, has led to high rates of suicide, which has motivated appeals in the medical community for greater understanding.

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