Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is a poorly understood, difficult to treat and excruciating condition that often takes over a person’s life once diagnosed. The first mentions of the disease date back to the American Civil War, when physicians first noticed that the intense burning and agony that soldiers experienced when being shot occasionally remained after the bullet was removed. Today, there is still precious little research into the disorder, but doctors do know that about 90 percent of cases are the result of clear trauma. In fact, nearly any kind of injury can spark the condition, which is why some doctors liken it to an allergic response to injury.

What types of injuries can cause complex regional pain syndrome to appear?

Researchers believe that most people who experience the disorder are undergoing an out of scale reaction to certain physical stimuli. Nerve damage is a common trigger for the disease, as is blood vessel damage and anything that may stress the immune or nervous system. In short, there is a huge range of potential triggers and causes, so any accident that causes significant injury has the potential to leave someone with reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

Vehicle accidents, falls, explosions, fires, heavy machinery accidents, and surgical mistakes are some of the most common incidents that lead to the condition. As burns, broken bones, severe lacerations, damage to nerve tissue, and even bruises can all trigger the disease, any accident that results in trauma is a potential risk factor.

However, some patients develop the condition after extended periods of limb immobilization. This may occur when a broken leg is left in a cast for too long, or when a patient is paralyzed, and the condition emerges as a secondary complication. Specifically, at least 15 percent of people who suffer from hemiplegia (or paralysis of half of the body) will develop complex regional pain syndrome.

What are some signs of the disease?

Because it is a systemic condition, reflex sympathetic dystrophy can cause symptoms all over the body, and it’s rare that two patients experience the exact same spectrum of complications. However, most patients will develop inflammation of nerve tissue, pain that is chronic and intense, loss of limb mobility and flexibility, and poor blood flow in the affected area. Some patients may also experience a variety of sensations around the affected area and may suffer agony from gentle stimuli like air flow, water, subtle vibrations, and touch.

Muscle spasms, limb discoloration (usually due to edema), loss of bone mass, joint stiffness, visual disturbance, fainting, excessive sweating, and psychological complications have all been reported in research literature as well.

Treatment for the disorder is usually a lifelong affair and typically involves extensive physical and psychological therapy, regular medication, and even extreme surgical options like spinal implants and amputation of the affected limb. Therapists may also rely on experimental treatment methods such as mirror box therapy. In general, the condition worsens over time and eventually spreads throughout the body.

People who have been injured by the carelessness of another may never get their former lives back if they develop the disease. Medical treatment, job loss, and maintenance therapy will be expensive, so injury victims are encouraged to seek medical and legal assistance immediately.