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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)

reflex sympathetic dystrophyWhat is RSD?

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSD) is a rare disorder that usually affects extremities such as the hands and/or feet with pain and wasting of tissues as its main symptoms. The illness, although still rare, is much more common than generally realized, and it may be a component of many other diseases.

The signs and symptoms of RSD are burning pain, swelling, tenderness, discoloration, irregular skin temperature, and shiny skin. What actually causes the disease is unknown but there are theories that it is caused by unusual excitation and irritation in and around the nervous tissue. This irritation leads to nerve impulses that affect the nearby skin and blood vessels. A sign of RSD is a persistent pain continuing in an affected area long after an injury should be healed.

What Triggers RSD?

Although the exact cause is unknown, RSD has been seen to be triggered by certain traumatic events such as a severe cut, sprain, fracture, heart attack, surgery, nerve injury, stroke, shingles, cancer, and as a side-effect of drugs for tuberculosis and barbiturates. 

However, the signs and symptoms of RSD can develop days, weeks, or months after an injury. The prolonged chronic pain caused by RSD may be related to the inability of the sympathetic nerves to shut down after an injury and continue to register that an injury exists.

If diagnosed and treated early, RSD is curable. If undiagnosed and allowed to progress, RSD leads to permanent deformities, immobility of the limbs, and will spread to large segments of the body.

At an advanced stage of the illness, all patients have significant psychiatric problems and narcotic dependency and are completely incapacitated by the disease. RSD does not significantly decrease a patient's lifespan, so patients face the existence of continuous severe pain throughout the remainder of their lives.

Diagnosing and Treating RSD

RSD can be diagnosed through blood tests although certain symptoms may result in abnormal and irregular results. Testing with x-rays, nuclear bone scanning, and MRI scanning of the affected limb can reveal RSD by showing signs of patchy osteoporosis.  

Treatment of RSD is most effective when it is part of a comprehensive pain management program and when RSD has been diagnosed early on. This treatment will usually include psychological evaluations, physical therapy, and pain medication.

Treatment of RSD requires an experienced team effort, especially between the anesthesiologist and psychologist or psychiatrist. Treatment may also include the overall coordination of the patient's care by a rehabilitation provider or nurse with expertise in the field of RSD.

Problems with RSD

The first time RSD was diagnosed was over 100 years ago during the American Civil War. While it continues to be a major catastrophic disease resulting from injury, some physicians continue to question its existence, especially during the early stages when the disease presents no definitive physical evidence.

Unfortunately, the physician who fails to diagnose and initiate early treatment of RSD may foreclose a possible cure. No laboratory test presently exists to diagnose RSD in its early stages.

The early diagnosis depends on the ability of the physician to identify and piece together the many signs of RSD, which do not always follow the textbook description.

Furthermore, many healthcare centers lack a standardized approach to the diagnosis and treatment of RSD. Many patients find themselves going nowhere or going in circles for their care. This can create problems for patients who are receiving Workers' Compensation benefits or pursuing personal injury claims

The YouTube video below discusses reflex sympathetic dystrophy, its causes, and treatments.

Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer

I'm Ed Smith, a Personal Injury Lawyer for Sacramento and all of Northern California. RSD cases can be difficult as the symptoms can arise days or weeks after the initial injury. This makes it more complicated to have the added condition, and the additional pain and discomfort, recognized in your claim. RSD claims need an experienced Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Lawyer. 

I have successfully handled many RSD cases that have led to compensation for the injured. If you have been injured by another's negligence and that injury has resulted in RSD give me a call today at 916.921.6400 or 800.404.5400 for free and friendly advice concerning your potential claim.

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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 10.30.20]

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