Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
(RSD, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type 1, CRPS)

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Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) facts

  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is characterized by a group of symptoms including pain (often "burning" type), tenderness, and swelling of an extremity associated with varying degrees of sweating, warmth and/or coolness, flushing, discoloration, and shiny skin.
  • How RSD occurs is not known, but there are often triggering events.
  • Symptoms of RSD often occur in three stages: 1) acute, 2) dystrophic, and 3) atrophic.
  • Diagnosis of RSD is based on clinical findings, supported by radiological tests.
  • Treatment of RSD is most effective in the earlier stages.

What is reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)?

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is a condition that features a group of typical symptoms, including pain (often "burning" type), tenderness, and swelling of an extremity associated with varying degrees of sweating, warmth and/or coolness, flushing, discoloration, and shiny skin. RSD is also referred to as "complex regional pain syndrome," "the shoulder-hand syndrome," "causalgia," and "Sudeck's atrophy."

What causes reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)?

The exact mechanism of how RSD develops is poorly understood. The theories include irritation and abnormal excitation of nervous tissue, leading to abnormal impulses along nerves that affect blood vessels and skin. The involuntary nervous system, peripheral nerves, and brain seem to be involved.

A variety of events can trigger the RSD, including:

There is no associated or identified inciting event in one-third of individuals with RSD. Fibromyalgia has been reported to coexist with RSD in some people.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/11/2014

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