Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome - Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)?

The onset of RSD symptoms may be rapid or gradual. The condition may not display all features. It is bilateral (involving both sides of the body) in up to half of people with RSD. There are several stages of RSD with symptoms that include:

  1. Acute (three to six months): burning, flushing, blanching, sweating, swelling, pain, and tenderness. This stage can show early X-ray changes of patchy bone thinning.
  2. Dystrophic (three to six months): early skin changes of shiny, thickened skin and contracture with persistent pain, but diminished swelling and flushing.
  3. Atrophic (may be long-standing): loss of motion and function of the involved hand or foot with contracture (flexed scarring process), and thinning of the fatty layers under the skin. X-ray can show significant osteoporosis.
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Comment from: barbara, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: April 16

I initially suffered from reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSD) in 1988 when I had a car accident. I had a broken sternum and left leg injuries. Shortly thereafter, I had extreme skin sensitivity along with excruciating elbow pain. My orthopedic surgeon tried everything; last ditch effort was to cast my left arm to isolate the left elbow. When the cast was being cut off 8 weeks later, my pain level was beyond words. At that moment, my orthopedic doctor said to his nurse, 'my goodness, she has RSD.' I saw a renowned doctor and within 2 years, as the doctor put it 'sometimes RSD just burns itself out,' I was clear of it. I am now in the grips of it again with my left arm. Hoping to find some relief.

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Comment from: Ozzy, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: July 31

I have been RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome) diagnosed for many years now; I did suffer in the early years with what was thought to be RSI (repetitive strain injury. After many years of being passed from pillar to post and visiting loads of specialists I was eventually told that RSD was the most likely cause of my severe pains that affect both upper limbs and occasionally my lower legs. I have varying degrees of burning, stinging, pulsing and what I call deep nerve type pains in the upper limbs. I have blotchy red/purple hands at times. Cold weather, touching cold items or just walking down the freezer isle of a supermarket causes greatly enhanced upper limb pains. At times I do not like being touched due to the tenderness of the limbs. I have tried many, many types of painkillers and currently use Fentanyl; it does help but breakthrough pain is a real problem. I no longer work as the daily episodes of pain and the action of just using my limbs exacerbates issues; at times pain is very bad but after years of fighting I have grown to just accept my condition and now outwardly show little evidence of what is actually going on.

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