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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic health problem that causes long-lasting pain. Although it can occur anywhere in the body, it usually affects an arm, leg, hand, or foot. It typically causes constant burning pain out of proportion to the severity of the initial injury.

The cause of CRPS remains unknown. However, this condition can be triggered by damage to nerve fibers in tissue that has been injured. It typically develops four to six weeks after a trauma, fracture, infection, surgery, stroke, or heart attack. It can occur at any age but is relatively rare.

There is a spectrum of variations of complex regional pain syndrome that are known by other names. These include reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS), algodystrophy, causalgia, shoulder-hand syndrome, Sudeck’s atrophy, and transient osteoporosis.

Symptoms

The symptoms of CRPS vary widely from person to person. They can include:

  • Pain: Mild to intense pain, persistent throbbing and buring pain in an arm, leg, hand, foot, or another part of your body. It is often out of proportion to the severity of your injury, and spreads and gets worse over time.
  • Loss of Function: Decreased ability to move the affected body part. Joint stiffness, muscle spasms, tremors, weakness and atrophy in the affected limb.
  • Skin Swelling and Sensitivity: Swelling in your affected limb that may come and go or remain constant. The affected extremity can feel warmer or cooler than the opposite extremity.
  • Changes in Skin Color and Texture: Skin color may change to appear as blotchy, pale, purple/bruised or red. Skin texture may become tender, thin or shiny in the affected area.

Symptoms may change over time and vary for different patients. CRPS may also occassionally spread from where it first appears to other areas of your body.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Although in some cases, the symptoms of CPRS will go away on their own, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible when severe pain is experienced. Treatment is known to be most effective when it is started as early as possible in the course of the illness.

Video Overview: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

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