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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy syndrome, also known as Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that is believed to be the result of dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous systems.
Not too many people have heard about this rare and complex syndrome.

Typical symptoms include:
  • dramatic changes in the color and temperature of the skin over the affected limb or body part
  • changes accompanied by intense burning pain
  • skin sensitivity
  • sweating
  • swelling
RSD can strike at any age and affects both men and women, although most experts agree that it is more common in young women. Some researches are telling that women are more likely to be affected by CRPS than men are. The condition is most common in people between the ages of 40 and 60, but it can occur at any age. The nature of CRPS is puzzling, and the cause isn't clearly understood. Although it could be difficult to talk about complete recovery- it is proven that treatment is most effective when started early.

Incidence and Prevalence

Although, not too many people believe- the fact is that already millions of people in the United States suffer from this chronic pain syndrome. This syndrome affects both men and women, and also occurs in children. Although, it can occur at any age, but usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 60 years. Experts are saying that 2% to 5% of peripheral nerve injury patients and 12% to 21% of patients with paralysis on one side of the body develop reflex sympathetic dystrophy as a complication.

Types of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy syndrome

In generally, it is considered that there are two different types of RSD:
  • RSDS I
This type is frequently triggered by tissue injury and, what's important- it includes almost all classical symptoms but with no underlying nerve injury.
Patients with this type of syndrome experience the same symptoms but their cases are clearly associated with a nerve injury.

Symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Most important thing to know is that the key symptom of RSD is continuous, intense pain in affected limb. It is also important that the pain is out of proportion to the severity of the injury and it gets worse rather than better over time. CRPS most often affects one of the extremities and is often accompanied by:
  • burning sensations and pain
  • increased skin sensitivity
  • changes in skin temperature: warmer or cooler compared to the opposite extremity
  • changes in skin color: often blotchy, purple, pale, or red
  • changes in skin texture: shiny and thin, and sometimes excessively sweaty
  • changes in nail and hair growth patterns
  • swelling and stiffness in affected joints
  • motor disability, with decreased ability to move the affected body part
The pain usually starts in one part of the limb but with time- the pain spreads to include the entire arm or leg. Pain can sometimes even travel to the opposite extremity.

Possible causes of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Although some experts are claiming different- the fact is that doctors still don’t know what causes RSDS.

Catecholamines theory

The most recent theory suggests that pain receptors in the affected limb become responsive to a family of nervous system messengers known as catecholamines. Several researches done in the past have proven that norepinephrine- catecholamine released from sympathetic nerves, is responsible for activating pain pathways after tissue or nerve injury.  

Immune theory

Another theory is that syndrome is caused by a triggering of the immune response, which leads to the characteristic inflammatory symptoms of redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area.  

Other conditions

Causes associated with the onset of RSD/CRPS include the following:
  • Cerebral lesions
  • Heart disease, heart attack
  • Infection
  • Paralysis on one side of the body   
  • Radiation therapy
  • Repetitive motion disorder  
  • Spinal cord disorders
  • Surgery
  • Trauma  
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Lung disease
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