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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) Type I (here called RSD/CRPS), is a chronic condition characterized by burning pain and abnormalities in the sensory, motor and autonomic nervous systems. The syndrome typically appears after an acute injury to a joint or limb, though it may occur with no obvious precipitating event. In most cases, regardless of the site of injury the symptoms begin and remain most intense in the distal most extremity. In the initial stages of RSD/CRPS, pain and swelling from the injury do not subside but actually intensify, spreading from the site of the injury to other parts of the limb, to the contralateral limb or to remote regions of the body. The skin in affected areas and particularly deep somatic tissues are painfully sensitive to touch, often red and abnormally warm due to alterations in regional blood flow. Changes in sweating patterns, hair growth, subcutaneous tissues, muscles, joints or bones and difficulty moving the joint or limb are other hallmarks of the disorder. In addition to the evidence of inflammation and abnormal autonomic nervous system function, there are changes in motor systems including tremor, weakness and dystonia, which strongly suggest a central nervous system component to the disease in a subgroup of patients. The syndrome may evolve through three stages (acute, dystrophic, atrophic), although this is very much debated, each marked by progressive pain and physical changes in the skin, muscles, joints and bones. RSD/CRPS can affect both genders and all ages (including children), although it is thought to be more common between the ages of 40 and 60 and may be more frequent in women. The cause of RSD/CRPS is unknown.