What Is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)?

Dr. Prager answers the question: 'What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?'

— -- Question: What Is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)?

Answer: Complex regional pain syndromes is the more modern term for what was previously referred to and still commonly referred to as reflex sympathetic dystrophy or RSD. RSD is a nervous system disorder that is brought on by minor traumas as insignificant as being bumped by a supermarket cart or having a sprained ankle. It's important to understand that surgery and even perfectly performed surgery can cause or bring on CRPS or RSD. What the significance of this is, is that patients who have perfectly performed surgery and develop CRPS doesn't mean that anything happened wrong in the surgery; it's just a thing that happens. And why it happens to some people and not others is not yet understood.

We would all like to know why patients develop RSD. What they develop is a very severe pain syndrome, so severe that in some cases, the lightest touch provokes a severe pain. Being touched by the sheets at night for instance is something that's intolerable to many RSD patients.

Now the other thing that happens is that there can be swelling, temperature change, and in addition to that, one can develop a disorder of the system that moves the body so that we can get atrophy or we can get tremor or we can get spasms all as a result of this nervous pain syndrome.

Estimates of the number of patients that suffer from reflex sympathetic dystrophy vary from the tens of thousands to as high as 1.2 million, according to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Society of America. The important thing to understand about this syndrome is that although patients who develop severe cases certainly suffer to a great extent to the point that they are disabled, if patients are diagnosed early and treated early, they have a chance for complete remission or close to complete remission of this disease. The important thing is to establish the diagnosis and get interdisciplinary care promptly.

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