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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) Syndrome and its Symptoms?

28 September, 2020 Nikita Jain

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSD), it is a disease that gives lasting pain often in an arm or leg and shows up after an injury, stroke, or even heart attack. But the harshness of pain is typically worse than the original injury itself. Till the date, Doctors don’t know, what exactly causes this disease, but they are successful in treating many cases.

The term reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome is basically not a name that doctors use now a day. It’s an earlier term used to describe one form of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). RSD is sometimes called Type I CRPS and it’s happening by injury to tissue with no related nerve damage.

Symptoms of RSD

When we get RSD, the symptoms that may show up slowly, & may have pain first, and then it may get worse over time. We may not realize our pain is abnormal at first.

The types of injuries that cause RSD to include:

  •  Amputation
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Cuts
  • Fractures
  • Minor surgery
  • Needle sticks
  • Radiation therapy
  • Sprains
  • Constant burning or throbbing pain, often in your arm, leg, hand, or foot
  • Sensitivity on touching or cold
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Fluctuation in skin temperature — alternating between sweaty and cold
  • Fluctuation in skin color, ranging from white and blotchy to red or blue
  • Turn in skin texture, which may become tender, thin, or shiny in the affected area
  • Changes in hair and nail growth

Joint stiffness, swelling, and damage can also happen

  • Muscle spasms, tremors, weakness, and loss (atrophy)
  • Reduced ability to move the affected body part

It’s most frequent to get RSD in the arm, shoulder, leg, or hip. Often the pain spreads beyond the injury site. In a few cases, symptoms can spread to other parts of the body.

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Causes of RSD

According to Doctors the pain caused by RSD comes from problems in our sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls the flow of blood & its movements that help regulate our heart rate and blood pressure.

When we get hurt, our sympathetic nervous system tells the blood vessels to get smaller so that we don’t lose a lot of blood at our injury site. Later, it tells them to open back up, so blood can reach the damaged tissue and repair it.

When we have RSD, our sympathetic nervous system gets mixed signals. It turns on after an injury but doesn’t turn back off. Because of this, it causes a lot of pain and swelling at the injury site.

Occasionally, you can get RSD even if you haven’t had an injury, although it’s not as frequent.

RSD is seen typically in women than in men. Children can get it, too, but often it shows up between ages 30 and 60.

A list of events that can trigger the RSD, including:

  • Injury
  • Surgery
  • Heart disease
  • Degenerative arthritis of the neck
  • Stroke or other brain diseases
  • Nerve gets irritated by entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Shingles
  • Shoulder problems
  • Breast cancer
  • Drugs for tuberculosis and barbiturates.

Prevention of RSD

The following things can help to reduce the risk of development:

Taking vitamin C after a wrist fracture. Studies have shown that people who take a high dose of vitamin C after a wrist fracture may have a lower risk of CRPS compared with those who didn't take vitamin C.

Early mobilization after a stroke. Some research suggests that people who get out of bed and walk around soon after a stroke (early mobilization) reduce their risk of developing CRPS.

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Facts:

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is defined by a group of symptoms including pain (often "burning" type), tenderness, and swelling of an extremity associated with varying ranges of sweating, warmth, and/or coolness, flushing, discoloration, and shiny skin.

How this disease occurs is not known, but there are some triggering events.

Symptoms of RSD which usually occur in three stages:

  • Acute
  • Dystrophic
  • Atrophic

The diagnosis of RSD is based on clinical findings, supported by radiological tests.

Treatment of RSD is most effective in the earlier stages.

Bottom line

RSD results in a variety of outcomes. You may find that early intervention and treatment minimizes our symptoms and allows us to return our normal life. On the other side, symptoms get worse and not be diagnosed in a timely fashion. In these cases, it’s essential to learn how to best manage your symptoms for the fullest life possible.