Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

General or Other | Orthopaedics | Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (Disease)


Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is a progressive illness most often initiated by

trauma to a nerve, plexus, or soft tissue. Its five components are pain, edema, autonomic dysfunction, movement disorder, and trophic changes. The illness evolves in stages that progress insidiously over time. The length of time a patient remains in a specific stage is unknown.

In any stage of reflex sympathetic dystrophy, the symptom complex may be dissociated. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy occurs in one part of the body that seems to sensitize a patient so that a succeeding injury may initiate the process in the newly traumatized area. The length of time this sensitization lasts is unknown. Pain is the most disabling and the most difficult aspect of the illness to treat. At least in early stages the pain is sympathetically maintained, but with time becomes sympathetically independent.

Causes and Risk factors

The cause of reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome is not known, but it is often related to an injury or infection, which may inflame a nerve. In rare cases, an illness, such as a stroke or heart attack, may be the cause. The pain of reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome is generally greater than the severity of the injury that caused it.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Currently, there is no cure for reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, although research is being done to find one. However, reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome can be treated and may go into remission if prompt treatment is obtained. Treatments for reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome are intended to treat the pain and loss of function that can result from the condition.