Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Overview

What is reflex sympathetic dystrophy?
A person with reflex sympathetic dystrophy has long-standing pain in one area of the body: usually an arm or leg. The cause for reflex sympathetic dystrophy is unknown. The nerves that supply the painful area seem to cause the blood vessels to spasm. This causes decreased blood supply to the tissue, resulting in pain, numbness, and swelling. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is usually triggered by an injury, or surgery, involving the soft tissue or bone.

What are the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy?
Symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy usually occur in the arms or legs. The most common symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy include arm pain, leg pain, muscle aches, cool skin, and increased sensitivity to touch. Additional symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy include pale skin, excessive sweating, joint stiffness, foot swelling, or hand swelling.

How does the doctor treat reflex sympathetic dystrophy?
Treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy may include protective splints, massage, physical therapy, medication injections, oral corticosteroid medications, narcotic pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and surgery.

Continue to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Symptoms

Last Updated: Aug 31, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy References
  1. Pham T, Lafforgue P. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome and neuromediators. Joint Bone Spine. 2003 Feb;70(1):12-7. [12639612]
  2. Teasdall RD, Smith BP, Koman LA. Complex regional pain syndrome (reflex sympathetic dystrophy). Clin Sports Med. 2004 Jan;23(1):145-55. [15062588]
  3. Turner-Stokes L. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy--a complex regional pain syndrome. Disabil Rehabil. 2002 Dec 15;24(18):939-47. [12523947]
  4. Zyluk A. Scoring system in the assessment of the clinical severity of reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the hand. Hand Clin. 2003 Aug;19(3):517-21, xi. [12945650]
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