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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is an uncommon, chronic condition that usually affects your arm or leg. Very rarely, the disease can affect other parts of your body. You may experience intense burning or aching pain along with swelling, skin discoloration, altered temperature, abnormal sweating and hypersensitivity in the affected area.

The nature of CRPS is puzzling, and the cause isn't clearly understood. The condition may result from disturbances in the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that controls blood flow and your sweat glands. The disease commonly follows an acute problem. Most often, CRPS is preceded by a major injury to an arm or a leg, but it may also be triggered by an illness such as a heart attack or a minor injury you can't even recall.

Treatment

Dramatic improvement and even remission of CRPS is possible if treatment begins within a few months of your first symptoms. Your doctor may initially suggest:

  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may ease pain and inflammation. Prescription pain relievers may be recommended in some cases.

  • Applying heat and cold. Applying cold may relieve swelling and sweating. If the affected area is cool, applying heat may offer relief.

  • Physical therapy. Gentle, guided exercising of the affected limbs may improve range of motion and strength. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more effective exercises may be.

If the above treatments aren't effective, your doctor may recommend:

  • Corticosteroids. Use of the corticosteroid prednisone may reduce inflammation.

  • Sympathetic nerve-blocking medication. Injection of an anesthetic to block pain fibers in your affected nerves may relieve pain.

  • Vasodilators. These medications, traditionally used to treat high blood pressure, may help relieve pain in affected areas by easing blood vessel constriction.

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Chronic pain is sometimes eased by applying electrical impulses to nerve endings.

  • Biofeedback. In some cases learning biofeedback techniques may help. In biofeedback, you learn to become more aware of your body so that you can relax your body and relieve symptoms of pain.

  • Surgical sympathectomy. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgically cutting the nerves in your affected area. This procedure may also destroy other sensations and is controversial.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:01 AM