Regional Sympathetic Dystrophy

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, known to others as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, is a chronic condition thought to be the effects of some damage on the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the motor system of the autonomic nervous system, which acts as the control center of the body providing homeostasis and balance.

It is more commonly known as the fight or flight system given that it is the arbiter of hormonal and neuronal stress response. The sympathetic nervous system is a regulation system that acts automatically without having to go through conscious thought.

Damage on this sympathetic nervous system can possibly cause reflex sympathetic dystrophy that is characterized by loss of function and a burning sensation on the affected area as well as swelling, discoloration, and stiffness. Most areas of the body affected by this condition include arms and legs but there is also a possibility that it can affect other parts of the body.

There are three different stages of reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

The first stage happens during the first three months of the condition. One very apparent symptom in this stage is the development of a burning sensation on the affected area. Skin color is red and signs of swelling are evident. Muscle spasm, reduced mobility and stiffness can also occur. A sufferer also experiences hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating.

The second stage starts where the first stage ends and could last for 3 to 6 months. This stage is characterized by the worsening of pain, thickening of joints near the affected site, and bones begin to become brittle because of osteoporosis.

In the third stage, manifestations of reflex sympathetic dystrophy become more apparent as pain radiates from the affected area to the entire limb. The bones still continue to weaken and joints fuse together. Movements become limited to a point where movement is not possible due to severe pain. These symptoms can go on for a few weeks, months, and years. Sometimes, it can even go on for a lifetime. There are several cases where reflex sympathetic dystrophy goes into remission for a general duration of time.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy can happen to anybody regardless of age, sex and race. But according to statistics, the condition is more prominent in women than in men. It has also been documented that individuals affected with reflex sympathetic dystrophy are of ages between 25 to 55 years old. It is estimated that 3 to 6 million Americans are affected by this illness.

Signs And Symptoms Of Regional Sympathetic Dystrophy

The signs and symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy are usually manifested on the affected site. These signs and symptoms include:

    Painful joints
    Skin changes like discoloration
    Excessive sweating
    Muscle spasms
    Burning Pain
    Redness (changes to blue at a point)
    Loss of function or reduced movement
    Painful during movement and worsens as time passes by
    Pain radiates from affected part to the whole limb
    Extremely sensitive to touch
    Occurrence of muscle dystrophy due to lack of use

Causes of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

There is no clear picture on what really causes reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Most people in the medical field think that it is caused by damage on the sympathetic nervous system. When this system is damaged, signals and information may be sent incorrectly to the brain.

Even though there is no known cause for this condition, there are certain factors that may trigger reflex sympathetic dystrophy such as:

    Trauma to nerves
    Bone fracture
    Trauma to blood vessels
    Lesions on the brain
    Sprain of soft tissues

Diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Unlike other diseases, there is no one single test that could diagnose reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Individuals who manifest the signs and symptoms undergo a battery of tests by physicians that include physical examination and a background check on the medical history. A response by using stellate ganglion block can also provide a good basis for the diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Laboratory tests include:

    Skin Tests
    Bone Scan
    Computerized Tomography Scans or CT Scans
    Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Treatment for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

There is no definitive cure for this condition. But if reflex sympathetic dystrophy is diagnosed at its first stage, the better since conventional treatments can give hopes of full recovery for the sufferer. Treatments are also dependent on the severity and duration of the condition. The generic treatment for all reflex sympathetic dystrophy patients are pain killers to help relieved pain and may function as normally as possible. Other treatments of this condition may include any or a combination of the following:

Research is ongoing regarding reflex sympathetic dystrophy and its treatment. Studies now focus on new approaches on how to prevent this disorder from happening given its possible triggers.