Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS) is a condition that features a group of typical symptoms, including pain (often “burning” type), tenderness, and swelling of an extremity associated with varying degrees of sweating, warmth and/or coolness, flushing, discoloration, and shiny skin.

What causes reflex sympathetic dystrophy?

RSDS is also referred to as “the shoulder-hand syndrome,” “causalgia,” and “Sudeck’s atrophy.” The exact mechanism of how RSDS develops is not fully understood. Theories include irritation and abnormal excitation of nervous tissue, leading to abnormal impulses along nerves that affect blood vessels and skin. A variety of events can trigger the condition, including trauma, surgery, heart disease, degenerative arthritis of the neck, stroke or other brain diseases, nerve irritation by entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) or shingles, shoulder problems, breast cancer, and drugs for tuberculosis and barbiturates. There is no associated “event” in one-third of patients.

What are the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy?

The onset of the RSDS symptoms may be rapid on gradual. The condition may not display all features. It has been bilateral in up to half of the patients. There are several stages:

•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.

•Dystrophic: (three to six months) early skin changes of shiny, thickened skin and contracture with persistent pain, but diminished swelling and flushing.

•Atrophic: (may be long-standing) loss of motion and function of the involved hand or foot with contracture (flexed scarring process), thinning of the fatty layers under the skin. X-ray can show significant osteoporosis.

3003 Claire Lane Building 100 Jacksonville, Florida 32223 904-683-2596