Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
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What is complex regional pain syndrome?
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition. It can occur after an injury. It usually affects an arm or a leg. It can also occur in other areas of the body. In rare cases, the syndrome develops after surgery, heart attack, or other medical problem. Often, the pain is described as a burning feeling. It is much worse than expected for the injury. Your healthcare provider may also call this condition reflex sympathetic dystrophy or causalgia.
What are the symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome?
The symptoms of CRPS include:
- A painful, burning feeling in the affected area (usually an arm, leg, hand or foot), often long after the time when your injury should have healed
- The affected skin may be tender to the touch, swollen and very sensitive to hot or cold temperatures
- Change in skin color. It often turns red, blue, purple, or blotchy.
- Change in skin texture. The skin over the affected area may become thin or shiny.
- Stiffness and pain in the joints
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Loss of mobility in the affected area
Some people’s symptoms are mild and eventually go away. For others, symptoms can be severe and cause long-term disability.
It is believed that CRPS happens because of damage to the nervous system. It may happen if the nervous system malfunctions. In most cases, it is triggered by an injury or trauma. These could include:
- burns, cuts, or bruises
- minor procedures, such as a needle stick
Anyone at any age can get CPRS. It is more common in women. It seems to peak around age 40. It is uncommon in children and rare in the elderly.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How is complex regional pain syndrome diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your pain symptoms. They will physically examine you. There is not one specific test that can diagnose CRPS. Some tests may rule out another cause to your symptoms. An MRI can show changes in the tissue of the affected limb.
Can complex regional pain syndrome be prevented or avoided?
CRPS is not predictable. The only way to prevent or avoid it is to try to avoid being injured.
A variety of therapies are commonly used to treat CRPS:
- Physical therapy. Keeping the body part moving increases circulation and promotes healing.
- People in chronic pain may develop mental health disorders. These include depression or anxiety. They can heighten pain. Psychotherapy helps you cope with the pain. It also helps you cope with any conditions that develop
- Your healthcare provider may suggest that you take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help with pain and inflammation. These medicines include aspirin, ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (brand name: Aleve). They are available over the counter. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before using NSAIDs
If your pain is severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines that block certain nerves. Sometimes steroids help swelling and pain. Some medicines used for depression and seizures also help chronic pain. Narcotics and other pain medicines may not control the pain of complex regional pain syndrome. Sometimes a combination of medicine is necessary.
A treatment that works for one person may not work for another. An individual treatment plan must be made for each person.
Living with complex regional pain syndrome
With early treatment, you may keep complex regional pain syndrome from getting worse. Sometimes the condition improves. If treatment is started early enough, the symptoms may completely go away. However, people who have more severe symptoms that have lasted for a long time often don’t respond to treatment. These people may benefit from a pain management program aimed specifically at dealing with chronic pain.
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