Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS)

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS/RSD) is also known as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). RSD is classified as a chronic neurological syndrome that shares some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia including chronic pain. Many individuals who are diagnosed with RSD disease suffer from other conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, which can make the diagnosis of RSD symptoms difficult.

What is RSDS?

There are two types of Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome: Type I and Type II. Type II CRPS is known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome.

RSD is caused by a disturbance of the sympathetic nervous system, the network of nerves located along the spinal cord which controls bodily functions such as the opening and closing of blood vessels and sweat glands, and is also linked to emotions.

RSDS primarily affects the hands and feet, creating changes in the blood flow, which leads to weakened bones. If RSDS is left untreated, the disease can spread to other parts of the body.

What Causes RSDS?

RSDS is an injury disease. This means that a physical injury such as a sprain, strain, surgery or even an insect sting can lead to RSD. Injuries to nerves, bones, joints, muscles, tendons or ligaments can trigger RSDS along with other conditions including:

  • infections
  • certain medications
  • diabetes
  • thyroid disorders
  • neck and lower back disorders
  • lung disease
  • cancer
  • heart attack or stroke

RSDS is most likely to affect individuals between the ages of 40 and 60; however, children and the elderly may develop RSDS and the condition is more likely to occur in women.

RSD Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of RSD are often similar to fibromyalgia symptoms and usually develop within a few weeks after the initial injury took place:

  • severe pain or burning which may or may not be in the area of the injury
  • changes in the bones and skin
  • excessive sweating
  • tissue swelling
  • extreme sensitivity to touch, particularly in the fingers and toes
  • skin discoloration in the injured area
  • temperature changes (either hot or cold) in area of injury
  • rapid hair or nail growth
  • brittle nails
  • stiffness or muscle spasms
  • muscle contractions or tightness

Diagnosis of RSD

There are several testing procedures that may be involved in the diagnostic process of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. This includes any alteration of blood circulation in the toes which may be obtained by a photoplethysmography.

Your doctor will document any skin discoloration and changes in bone density and structures. Abnormal sensory nerve testing may be performed along with any increases to temperature sensitivity and noticeable differences in temperature between the hands and feet.

Allodynia or pain due to stimulus that should not normally induce pain will also be considered.

Treatment of RSD

Early diagnosis and treatment of RSD can help prevent permanent damage that may be caused by the disease. Treatment can include exercise, physical therapy, biofeedback, sugery, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), and medications such as alpha-blocking drugs, calcium channel blockers, local anesthetic blockers, and Bien block.

Talk to your doctor for information about treatment options for RSD that may be right for you.

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