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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Overview :

Historically, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) was noticed during the civil war in patients who suffered pain following gunshot wounds that affected the median nerve (a major nerve in the arm). In 1867 the condition was called causalgia form the Greek term meaning "burning pain." Causalgia refers to pain associated with major nerve injury. The exact causes of RSD are still unclear. Patients usually develop a triad of phases. In the first phase, pain and sympathetic activity is increased. Patients will typically present with swelling (edema), stiffness, pain, increased vascularity (increasing warmth), hyperhydrosis, and x-ray changes demonstrating loss of minerals in bone (demineralization). The second phase develops three to nine months later, It is characterized by increased stiffness and changes in the extremity that include a decrease in warmth and atrophy of the skin and muscles. The late phase commencing several months to years later presents with a pale, cold, painful, and atrophic extremity. Patients at this stage will also have osteoporosis.

It has been thought that each phase relates to a specific nerve defect that involves nerve tracts from the periphery spinal cord to the brain. Both sexes are affected, but the number of new cases is higher in women, adolescents, and young adults. RDS has been associated with other terms such as Sudeck's atrophy, post-traumatic osteoporosis, causalgia, shoulder-hand syndrome, and reflex neuromuscular dystrophy.

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