Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, is the current name for the condition once known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). The CRPS terminology was adopted in the mid-90s, but RSD is still occasionally used. The best estimates indicate that the United States has approximately 50,000 new cases of CRPS every year.
CRPS is marked by intense pain afflicting the arms, legs, hands, or feet. Skin color may change and the sufferer may experience temperature changes (going hot and then cold), and loss of function and movement are common. Hair and nail growth in the affected limbs may change. For most sufferers, the pain brought on by CRPS is constant. CRPS is most common as a complication developing after peripheral nerve injury or partial paralysis. It develops in 2 to 5 percent of nerve injury cases and 12 to 21 percent of paralysis cases. (Statistics compiled by the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association, or RSDSA.)
While CRPS can begin spontaneously, it is usually linked to some prior injury, particularly a fracture. CPRS can sometimes develop in patients who have suffered strokes or heart attacks or recently undergone surgery. The syndrome presents some unusual characteristics, including:
- Hyperalgesia: The pain is greater than would be expected after the preceding injury
- Hyperesthesia: Patients are more sensitive to stimuli in the affected limb
- Allodynia: Pain may become connected to events or circumstances that are not normally painful
- CRPS pain can continue for months or even years after the preceding injury has healed
CRPS is ultimately caused by a malfunction in the nervous system of the patient, and doctors and researchers do not understand the mechanism that causes it according to the experts at prescriptiondoctor.com. CRPS is also notable because it typically occurs without a “triggering” injury to the nervous system.
While CRPS type 1 is a very mysterious condition, its existence is not doubted and few people consider it to be merely a psychological phenomenon. CRPS has, for instance, been observed in children too young to mimic the symptoms either consciously or subconsciously. The observable changes that occur in victims’ bones, skin, nails, and hair also argue strongly against the syndrome being psychological.
Symptoms Of CRPS
The syndrome’s most significant symptom is experiencing continuous and intense pain in the limbs, feet, or hands. The pain sensations grow worse over time and often spread to other extremities. CRPS patients typically describe the pain as a burning sensation.
Additional symptoms include:
- Inflammation, swelling, and stiffness of joints
- Discoloration and other changes in the skin
- Rapid growth of hair
- Changes in finger or toenails
- Difficulty moving the affected limb
Causes Of CRPS/RSD
The mechanism that causes CRPS to occur is not known with any certainty. Researchers and doctors have a range of theories, including:
- Norepinephrine is released in excessive quantities after an injury, over-stimulating pain sensors.
- Small-fiber nerves in the affected limbs are suffering inflammation damage.
- The immune system has somehow started triggering pain sensors.
Researchers who study CRPS in-depth emphasize that the syndrome is likely produced by a particular combination of events and circumstances to initiate CPRS’s distinctive pain response.
Does CRPS Heal?
For most patients, CPRS never goes away. Early diagnosis and treatment do increase the chance of making the syndrome disappear. Treatment goals for CPRS patients typically concentrate on pain reduction and slowing the spread of symptoms. Successful management of CPRS consists of learning how to manage symptoms and live a full life while coping with pain.
If you or a relative have CRPS, the specialist that should be managing your care for the syndrome is a neurologist or neuropsychiatrist. An effective CRPS team may include additional specialists, like rheumatologists and pain management specialists. The best place to build and access a specialist team for CRPS care is often a teaching hospital or university medical center.