Injuries and Diseases
|What is complex
regional pain syndrome?
Complex regional pain syndrome is pain that may occur
after an injury to an arm or a leg. In rare cases, the
syndrome develops after surgery, a heart attack, a stroke
or other medical problem. The pain is often described
as a burning feeling and is much worse than expected for
the injury. Your doctor may also call this condition reflex
sympathetic dystrophy or causalgia. The cause of the syndrome
is not known.
How can my doctor tell if I have
complex regional pain syndrome?
Your doctor will make the diagnosis based on your pain
symptoms and your physical exam. People with this syndrome
still have severe pain long after the time when their
injuries should have healed. The injured area is often
swollen. The color, or the temperature and moistness of
the skin may change. The skin may be sensitive to a light
touch or to changes in temperature.
Usually, no tests are needed to diagnose this condition.
Your doctor may order x-rays or blood tests to see whether
another illness is causing your pain.
Does medicine help?
Yes, medicine can help. But no single drug or combination
of drugs gives long-lasting relief to patients with this
problem. Several medicines are used to treat the pain
of complex regional pain syndrome. Medicines that block
certain nerves may be prescribed. Sometimes steroids help.
Some medicines used for depression and seizures also help
chronic pain. Narcotics and other pain medicines may not
control the pain of complex regional pain syndrome.
Are there other treatments?
Yes. Your doctor may suggest a sympathetic block. This
is an injection of an anesthetic (pain reliever) into
certain nerves to block the pain signals. If the injection
works, it may be repeated. Physical therapy and psychological
counseling are also helpful. However, a treatment that
works for one person may not work for another. An individual
treatment plan must be made for each person.
Will the symptoms ever go away?
With early treatment, you may keep complex regional pain
syndrome from getting worse. Sometimes the condition improves.
If treatment is started early enough, the symptoms may
completely go away. However, people with more severe symptoms
that have lasted for a long time often don't respond to
treatment. These people may benefit from a pain management
program aimed specifically at dealing with chronic pain.
Where can I get more information?
For more information about complex regional pain syndrome,
reflex sympathetic dystrophy or causalgia, contact the
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association of America,
P.O. Box 502, Milford, CT 06460, call 203-877-3790, or