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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.
Return to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome

See what others are saying

Comment from: Judy, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: October 04

I have had reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS) since1985, not so bad at first. I have had every kind of treatment that is available. I got a severe infection from the morphine pump. Now I take morphine orally and the hospital will not give me the amount of pain medicines that I need. They say that it will pass. My whole left side of my body is on fire at night and it throbs. It all started in my left hand. I am trying hypnotherapy again.

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Comment from: DawnM, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: June 16

I sincerely empathize with all of you who suffer from this debilitating disease. I have been diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSD) by three specialists but my new doctors don't believe it. He said I don't have the swelling or shiny skin. A pain specialist that my primary referred me to says she'd be shocked if I didn't have it. I have severe pain after 6 surgeries, three of them fusions. Nobody has ever said I need a sympathetic block, just nerve blocks and prednisone injections. It is the most disabling pain ever. I would give birth naturally once a day over this pain, at least you get a break in between contractions. Wishes to all fellow sufferers of chronic pain. I would not wish it on anyone, maybe for a few minutes just to give them some understanding of this invisible disease.

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Comment from: 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: January 05

I was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome in 2004 after I sliced my tendons in my hand. Sometimes wish I could chop it off, it would be easier. My fingers are locked and I cannot open my hand. I get swelling, pain, pins and needles, hot cold pins and needles, winter being the worst time. Now after 11 years they think they can open my hand with physiotherapy, when they not sure it will work, and I have more pain.

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