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Understanding Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, is a potentially debilitating chronic pain condition that experts believe is related to dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system. It is sometimes referred to as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD.

CRPS/RSD typically affects people who have suffered a traumatic injury such as may occur in a car crash or industrial accident, as well as those who have undergone surgery. In some cases, the condition appears to be triggered by other events such as stroke, heart attack or illness.

Causes

Although CRPS/RSD is known to be linked to illness and injury, its exact causes are not yet fully understood. Some medical experts believe that the condition occurs when an injury causes a “short circuit” in the nervous system, leading to excessive activity in the nerves of the affected area. Others believe that the syndrome is caused by a triggering of the immune system during the healing process, which disrupts the body’s ability to recover from an injury or surgery.

Symptoms

The hallmark of CRPS/RSD is intense, burning pain that may seem out of proportion to the underlying injury. Instead of improving over time, the pain associated with CRPS/RSD typically persists and grows more intense, often spreading outward from the point of injury to affect a much larger area. The body parts most frequently affected by CRPS/RSD include the hands, legs, arms and feet, with symptoms often affecting the entire limb.

In addition to severe pain, people affected by CRPS/RSD often experience joint stiffness and swelling, and may have difficulty moving the affected area. Other symptoms may include excessive sweating and skin changes, such as discoloration, blotchiness, texture changes and temperature abnormalities. Some people affected by CRPS/RSD experience changes in nail and hair growth patterns, such as a sudden increase or decrease in growth.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for CRPS/RSD. Therefore, treatment of the condition is typically focused on relieving symptoms. Doctors may prescribe medications like topical analgesics, antidepressants, narcotics or corticosteroids to reduce pain. Other treatments may include the use of physical therapy, psychotherapy or nerve-blocking treatments aimed at stopping the pain signal from reaching the brain.

Surgery may also be an option for some CRPS/RSD patients if other treatments are ineffective. For instance, some patients can achieve relief with the use of a spinal cord stimulator, which involves the surgical implantation of tiny electrodes along the spinal column to deliver mild electrical impulses to the affected nerves. Others choose to use an implanted pain pump, which delivers a steady supply of pain medication directly to the spinal cord. Surgical removal of the affected nerves has been shown to provide relief in some cases, while causing symptoms to worsen in others.

Compensation for CRPS/RSD

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with CRPS/RSD after an injury, illness or surgical procedure, you may be able to receive financial compensation for your medical expenses, lost income and other expenses, as well as for the pain and suffering you have endured. For more information, contact an attorney with experience representing clients affected by CRPS/RSD.

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