Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, is a complicated pain problem. It is characterized by severe pain and progressive physical changes that persist long after the original injury has healed.
The original injury may have been as severe as a bullet wound or as simple as a sprained ankle. The syndrome can also sometimes occur after routine surgery.
Patients that have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy usually describe the pain as burning or shooting with extreme sensitivity to touch. For example, an article of clothing rubbing the affected area will often cause severe, extraordinary discomfort.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy usually occurs in an extremity (leg and foot or arm and hand), but can occur almost anywhere, including the chest, breast or abdomen.
Stages and physical changes
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy develops slowly, in stages, over several months or years. Initially the area may appear swollen and feel warm to touch due to both inflammation and spasms of the surrounding blood vessels.
In the second stage, the blood supply to the area diminishes and the area becomes cool to touch. The skin becomes shiny and waxy and there is a loss of hair and skin tone. The pain increases and there can be weakening of the underlying bone.
In the third and final stage, there is wasting of the affected muscles and disabling pain. Left untreated, the area can develop contractures from disuse which can become permanent. Bone scan and thermography are sometimes using in diagnosing Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.