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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Complex regional pain syndrome

Other Names for this Disease
  • CRPS
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome
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Your Question

What are the common symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome?

Our Answer

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What is complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome is a chronic pain condition that mainly affects the arms or legs and is often triggered by injury. It is characterized by constant pain, sensitivity, and skin color and temperature changes at the site of an injury. The pain is out of proportion to the severity of the injury and worsens with time. Treatment aims to control these painful symptoms.[1]
Last updated: 10/19/2011

What are the signs and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome most often affects one of the arms, legs, hands, or feet. Often the pain spreads to include the entire arm or leg.[1]  Typical features include dramatic changes in the color and temperature of the skin over the affected limb or body part, accompanied by intense burning pain, skin sensitivity, sweating, and swelling.  Other symptoms may include changes in nail or hair growth, thin and dry skin, stiff muscles and joints, loss of muscle, limited mobility in the affected limb, and muscle and tendon contractions.[2]
Last updated: 10/19/2011

What causes complex regional pain syndrome?

Currently the cause of complex regional pain syndrome is not well understood. In general it is thought to be caused by damage to the nervous system such as by injury or infection in an arm or leg, heart attack, or stroke. This damage includes harm to the nerves that control the blood vessels and sweat glands.[2] A second theory is that this syndrome is caused by a triggering of the immune response, which leads to the characteristic inflammatory symptoms of redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area.[1]
Last updated: 10/19/2011

How might complex regional pain syndrome be treated?

Treatment of complex regional pain syndrome should be started as soon as possible. Treatment may include biofeedback, hot and cold, nerve block, internal pain pump, pain medications, steroids, certain blood pressure medications, bone loss medications, antidepressants, physical therapy, occupational therapy, spinal cord stimulator, or surgery to cut the nerves to stop the pain (surgical sympathectomy).[2]
Last updated: 10/19/2011

What is the prognosis in people with complex regional pain syndrome?

The prognosis for complex regional pain syndrome varies from person to person. Early diagnosis and treatment may improve prognosis.[2] Sometimes signs of the disease may disappear and normal movement is possible.[1] If the condition is not diagnosed quickly, changes to the bone and muscle may get worse and may not be reversible.[2]
Last updated: 10/19/2011