Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or complex regional pain syndrome, is a condition that is sometimes known as the “suicide disease” because of the severe symptoms and lack of effective treatments. It most commonly affects a portion of the body, usually a limb.
One version of the McGill pain index (a scale that helps individuals describe the intensity and quality of pain) has ranked this condition highest, even above amputation, childbirth, and cancer. This condition may first affect one limb and gradually spread throughout the body. There are two subtypes with type 1 occurring after illness or injury without evidence of nerve damage in the affected limb while type 2 has distinct evidence of a nerve injury.
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is an uncommon condition with an unclear cause. Treatment is best if started early as it improves prognosis. It often involves medications, occupational therapy, physical therapy, neuromodulation, and psychological treatments.
Symptom #1: Pain
Pain is a distressing feeling that is often caused by damaging stimuli. It can be defined as an unpleasant experience where there is potential tissue damage. Pain is a sensation that motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging stimuli or situations to protect the body and allow it to heal. It also helps learning and teaches the individual to avoid similar experiences in the future.
Pain is one of the first symptoms that limits function. In reflex sympathetic dystrophy, the pain is usually burning in nature and is severe. It is felt in the extremity and can last for many years. It may be worsened by emotional factors and loud noises.