Reflex Sympathetic
Dystrophy Syndrome

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome: Overview

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (also known as complex regional pain syndrome, causalgia, shoulder-hand syndrome and post-traumatic spreading neuralgia) is a chronic, rare and painful condition that usually affects the arm or leg.  However, it can affect virtually any part of the body.

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Incidence; Causes and Development

Most often, the disease affects people older than age 50, but it can occur at any age.  Women are more likely to be affected than men are.

The nature of reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome is puzzling, and the cause is unknown at the time of writing.  The condition may result from a disturbance in the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that controls blood flow and your sweat glands.  The disease commonly follows an acute problem, such as an injury to an arm or a leg, or an illness such as a heart attack.  But it also may stem from a minor injury you may not even recall.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms include intense burning or aching pain along with swelling, abnormal sweating and hypersensitivity of the area.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may ease pain and inflammation.
  • Applying heat and cold. Applying cold may relieve swelling and sweating.  If the affected area is cool, applying heat may offer relief.
  • Exercises. Using and exercising affected limbs may improve range of motion and strength.  The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more effective exercises may be.

If the above treatments aren't effective, a doctor may recommend:

  • Corticosteroids. Use of the corticosteroid (prednisone) may reduce inflammation.
  • Sympathetic nerve-blocking medication. Injection of an anesthetic to block pain fibers in your affected nerves may relieve pain.
  • Biofeedback. In some cases learning biofeedback techniques may help.  In biofeedback, you learn to become more aware of your body so that you can relax your body and relieve symptoms of pain.

On This Page

Shoulder-Hand Syndrome:

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome:

Symptoms - Skin - General

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