ERNST & YOUNG
RSD, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, is relatively new in the attention of the medical field, and doctors are still seeking to understand all about this disease. It occurs as a result of damage to the nerves, but this only acts as a trigger for the disease. Exactly how it starts is uncertain, but there are a number of possible factors. There are two types of this condition. The first is indirect damage that is caused by an injury or an illness, or a procedure such as surgery. The second type has similar to the same cause, with the exception that the triggers affected the nerve directly. Car accidents, heart disease, stroke, neck problems, and some medications are a few likely triggers for RSD. Patients who suffer from RSD have often experienced a traumatic injury prior to the disease, such as an automobile collision or surgery.
Though the exact nature of the disease is unknown, there are some theories as to its cause. One possible answer is that the injury caused a “short circuit” in the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which governs unconscious impulses.
Both types of RSD follow three progressive stages: acute, dystrophic, and atrophic. They are each characterized by the following symptoms:
Acute: The first stage of RSD begins with severe pain that is abnormal even for the injury that caused it, and is most commonly a burning type of feeling. Extreme sensitivity is also characteristic, with even a light touch or a breeze resulting in painful sensations. Joint stiffness, swelling, and warm temperatures are also common. The skin may also change, becoming sweaty, blotchy, red, or pale.
Dystrophic: The temperature tends to cool at this stage, but the swelling increases, as does the pain, stiffness, and sensitivity to touch. In addition to the severity of the pain, it may also spread further along the affected limb. Fingernails weaken and become brittle, cracking and breaking easily.
Atrophic: This is the most severe stage, and often the damage can be irreversible. It is characterized by stiffness and loss of mobility. The skin continues to change, becoming dry, shiny, tightly stretched, and pale. By now, the pain decreases, but the condition continues to spread even more.
Like any other disease, the best chances are to catch it in its early stages and begin treatment as soon as possible. There is no cure; however, medical treatment is available to ease the symptoms and slow progression, or even reverse it in some cases. Sometimes, treatment is successful enough to cause the disease to go into remission.
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