Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also called “causalgia” and “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome” (CRPS), is a chronic pain condition thought to be caused by dysfunction of the nervous system. Civil War veterans were the first to report reflex sympathetic dystrophy symptoms, which included intense sharp pain at the site of long-healed wounds.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Causes
In many cases, it is unclear to doctors why a patient has developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Injury, which involves damage to the tissues, is often a primary culprit to the subsequent development of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Traumatic injuries can result from car accidents, work-related injuries, acts of violence, falls, and more. Symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy may also appear after surgery. Pressure on the neck nerves, cancer, infection, neck disorders, heart attack, and stroke are other possible causes of reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
Doctors understand that reflex sympathetic dystrophy involves a disruption to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for blood flow, sweat production, and other physical responses to stressful stimuli. When this system becomes overactive, a person can experience burning pain, swelling, and other reflex sympathetic dystrophy symptoms.
Some experts theorize that post-injury reflex sympathetic dystrophy is triggered by an immune response, which causes inflammation and related symptoms. Therefore, reflex sympathetic dystrophy may constitute a disruption of the healing process after a traumatic injury. Many experts believe several factors contribute to one’s development of reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Symptoms
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy symptoms can affect the hands, arms, legs, or feet, often where an injury has occurred in the past. Patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy typically experience at least three of the following symptoms:
- Burning pain
- Swelling, which can cause joint pain and stiffness
- Increase in skin sensitivity
- Changes in skin temperature
- Changes in skin texture (shiny and thinner)
- Changes in skin color (typically blotchy, pale, red, or purple)
- Excessive sweating
- Increase in nail and/or hair growth
- Decreased movement in the affected parts
- The spreading of pain
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy symptoms can vary in duration and severity. There are three stages of this condition.
Progression of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Stage One: This stage of reflex sympathetic dystrophy typically lasts one to three months. It is characterized by sharp burning pain, muscle spasms, stiff joints, increased hair growth, changes in the skin, and excessive sweating.
Stage Two: Lasting between three and twelve months, this stage of reflex sympathetic dystrophy is characterized by constant swelling, loss of skin wrinkles, the spread of pain, increased sensitivity and stiffness, cracked or brittle nails, softened bones, and decreased muscle tone.
Stage Three: This most advanced stage of reflex sympathetic dystrophy usually develops after one year. The skin is typically tight, shiny, dry and pale. Pain may involve a much greater area. Most damage to the skin and bones is irreversible. Limbs can become deformed. Severe muscle death, drastically diminished mobility, muscle and tendon contractions, and other serious conditions may also ensue.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Diagnosis
If you experience any of the symptoms of this condition, it is important to seek medical attention, since an early diagnosis is the best way to maximize the effects of treatment. Because the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy can be so vague and characteristic of numerous other conditions, it can be difficult to make a reflex sympathetic dystrophy diagnosis. Nerve entrapment, for example, is one condition whose symptoms can mimic reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
There are no tests designed to specifically diagnose reflex sympathetic dystrophy. The goal of many tests, such as the stimulus test or triple bone scan, is intended to rule out other conditions, which may cause similar symptoms.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Prognosis
The prognosis for reflex sympathetic dystrophy can vary by patient. Some patients with spontaneously enter remission, while others have unrelenting pain and irreversible damage despite treatment. Many doctors believe that best way to better one’s prognosis is to seek an early diagnosis and treatment. However, clinical evidence does not support this belief. More research is necessary to determine the causes, progression, and role of early treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Treatment
While no cure for reflex sympathetic dystrophy is known, treatments are available to relieve the symptoms of this condition. The three main forms of treatment are medication, physical therapy and surgery.
Medication for reflex sympathetic dystrophy can be oral, topical, or injectable. A variety of classes of medications can be used to control symptoms including:
- Topical Analgesics
- Anti-seizure drugs
Unfortunately, no single drug or combination of drugs has consistently shown to provide pain relief for patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Devices that administer medicine directly into the spinal fluid, called intrathecal drug pumps, are also used to provide reflex sympathetic dystrophy treatment. Sympathetic nerve blocks, which are administered in a number of ways, are also an effective form of treatment for some patients.
Physical therapy can be used to restore some range of motion and function to the affected areas of a patient’s body. A type of surgery called surgical sympathectomy is also an option for some patients. With reflex sympathetic dystrophy surgery, the affected nerves are destroyed. This procedure is controversial, however, as many experts believe this surgery can actually worsen one’s condition.
Spinal cord stimulation using electrodes placed next to the spinal cord can help to alleviate pain in some patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Additionally, psychotherapy is a helpful treatment for many patients. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy can have a profound effect on a person’s psychological well-being. Patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy can experience depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress syndrome.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Compensation
If you or a loved one has developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy because of an accident caused by another party, you may be able to obtain compensation for your losses and suffering. Please contact us to speak with a qualified attorney at Oshman & Mirisola to learn more about your legal rights and options. We are prepared to protect your best interests and help you pursue the financial assistance you deserve.
Contact us today at 1-800-400-8182, or contact us online for a free case evaluation. Our firm utilizes the contingency fee system, where we not only provide free consultations, but never charge a fee unless we are successful in obtaining a settlement or jury verdict on your behalf.