What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy? Its Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Home » Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Shasta Wilson

Written By Shasta Wilson

April 12, 2023

Medical Condition: Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is a common term used to refer to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Both the terms refer to the chronic conditions that are often characterized by severe burning pain that usually affects a leg or an arm.

It typically develops after surgery, an injury, a heart attack, or a stroke. However, the health condition is uncommon, and the cause of the same is not clearly understood.

The health condition mainly occurs in extremities affecting the upper limbs. If a person has a health condition, they may experience Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in their

  • Fingers
  • Hands
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Legs

Symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

  • Continuous throbbing or burning pain
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Sensitivity to cold or touch
  • Modifications in skin temperature
  • Modifications in skin texture
  • Modifications in skin color
  • Changes in nail and hair growth
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness and loss
  • Tremors
  • Joint stiffness
  • Decreased ability to move the affected body part

However, the symptoms may vary from person to person and change over time. Redness, swelling, pain, and other noticeable changes in hypersensitivity and temperature usually occur first.

There are several pieces of evidence that early diagnosis and treatment of the health condition may help improve the symptoms. However, a combination of various treatments tailored to a specific case is essential.

When Do You Need to See a Doctor?

If a person experiences a constant severe pain that affects the limbs and makes the moving or touching that limb seem intolerable. In that case, you gotta see the medical doctor immediately to determine the cause. It is pretty essential to treat the health condition early.

Causes of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

The cause of the health condition is not completely understood. However, it is often thought to be caused due to an abnormality or injury to the peripheral and central nervous systems. It is typically considered as an outcome of an injury or trauma.

The illness occurs in two types with similar symptoms. This includes:

  • Type 1
    Type 1 is known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy that occurs after an injury or illness, which doesn’t directly affect the limb nerves. Around 90 percent of patients with CRPS are diagnosed with Type 1.
  • Type 2
    The type 2 condition has similar symptoms to Type 1, referred to as Causalgia. This often occurs after a distinct nerve injury.

Complications involved

If the disease is not diagnosed early and treated on time, it may progress to several more disabling symptoms. The symptoms may include:

  • Muscle Tightening
    Muscle tightening, also referred to as contracture, in which a person may experience muscle tightening. This contracture may lead to a condition in which the fingers, hands, toes, or feet contract into a fixed position.
  • Tissue Wasting
    Tissue wasting is also referred to as atrophy, in which the bones, muscles, and skin may start to deteriorate and weaken if you have trouble moving a leg or an arm due to stiffness or pain.
prevention from reflex sympathetic dystrophy

Prevention from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Several prevention steps might help reduce the risk of developing the health condition. This includes:

  • Consumption of Vitamin C After a Wrist Fracture
    The research studies have indicated that people who take higher vitamin C dosage after a wrist fracture may lower the risk of developing the health condition.
  • Early Mobilization After the Stroke
    Several research studies suggest that people who walk around soon or get out of bed early after a stroke may have a reduced risk of developing the health condition.

Diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

The health condition diagnosis is made based on the physical examination and medical history.

Since no single test can diagnose the health condition, the following tests may provide essential clues concerning the issue.

  • Bone Scan
    A bone scan may help locate the bone changes. During this, a radioactive substance is injected into one of the veins that permit the bones to be seen with the help of a particular camera.
  • X-rays
    Mineral loss from the bones may help show on an X-ray in the disease’s later stages.
    Magnetic Resonance Imaging.MRI scan test captures the images that may indicate the tissue changes that help rule out other conditions.
  • Sweat Production Test
    Several tests can also help measure the sweat amount on the limbs, and its uneven results may indicate the health condition.

Treatment of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

There are several pieces of evidence that early diagnosis and treatment of the health condition may help improve the symptoms. However, a combination of various treatments tailored to a specific case is essential. The several treatment options associated with the health condition include:

Medications for the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

The medical doctor often suggests several medications to treat the symptoms of the disease. The medications include

  • Pain relievers
  • Corticosteroids
  • Anticonvulsants and Antidepressants
  • Sympathetic nerve-blocking medication
  • Bone loss medications
  • Intravenous Ketamine

Therapies for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

The therapies often recommended for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy include

  • Topical Analgesics
  • Heat Therapy
  • Mirror Therapy
  • Occupational or physical therapy
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
  • Acupuncture
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Biofeedback
  • Intrathecal Drug Pumps

Coping From the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Living with such a chronic health condition is pretty challenging, especially when you cannot even describe the pain and feeling you are experiencing.

However, you can also cope with the health condition by taking care of your mental and physical health. But for that, you gotta follow the below-mentioned suggestions.

  • Maintain normal activities
  • Stay connected with family and friends
  • Pace yourself and be assured of getting the rest you require.
  • Continue to perform the hobbies.

Bottom Line!

Since coping with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is pretty challenging, seeking a medical professional’s guidance and advice immediately is always a perfect way to deal with it as the health condition can be improved with early treatment and diagnosis.

If you are often experiencing the symptoms of the disease, seek a medical professional’s help immediately!

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