Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, also known as RSD, is a condition that is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including pain. Other symptoms associated with RSD include swelling and tenderness. In addition, a person afflicted with this condition can experience unusual sweating, flushing and discoloration. Some people also experience tenderness and swelling. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is also referred to as complex regional pain syndrome, the shoulder and hand syndrome, causalgia, and Sudeck’s atrophy.
As a general rule, reflex sympathetic dystrophy impacts a person’s limbs and extremities. It commonly occurs in and around an individual’s shoulder or shoulders.
The Cause of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
At this juncture, the cause of, or trigger for, reflex sympathetic dystrophy is not known. One theory is that the irritation of nerve tissue may result in the nerves functioning improperly, leading to the condition.
A variety of different events seem to be associated with the onset of RSD in some individuals. These events include injury, surgery, the onset of heart disease, stroke, shingles, breast cancer, or the use of certain prescription medications.
Despite a level of uncertainty about the underlying cause of RSD, the condition does seem to involve peripheral nerves, the nervous system generally and a person’s brain.
Levels of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Generally speaking, three stages of reflex sympathetic dystrophy are said to exist. These are acute, dystrophic and atrophic. As the condition progresses, a person experiences more severe symptoms, including more pronounced pain. In some cases, the advancement of the condition can be prevented with an aggressive treatment program.
Pain Associated with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
The pain associated with RSD typically is persistent and described as a burning sensation. The pain can achieve a level that it becomes debilitating for many individuals. These people are unable to undertake various activities of daily living because of the pain they experience associated with RSD.
In these instances, a person afflicted with RSD must seek professional assistance to develop a pain management regimen. A primary course to treatment includes professionally supervised exercise designed to improve flexibility. This type of treatment increases blood flow, which is though to reduce the level of pain. Provided this type of treatment is regular and consistent, it represents an effective method of pain management for a person diagnosed with RSD.
The management of pain associated with reflex sympathetic dystrophy is most effective if a treatment regimen, like the one described, is commenced during the early stages of the condition. In some cases, this type of early intervention can assist in stopping the progress of RSD.
Prognosis for RSD
As mentioned previously, a person has the best chance of controlling the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy if he or she obtains early medical intervention. This includes the overall management of a person’s pain associated with reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
With that noted, the prognosis for a person diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy is considered unpredictable, according to the National Institutes of Health. The agency does underscore the need for prompt intervention when reflex sympathetic dystrophy is suspected.