CRPS, or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, is a disease that causes constant and extreme pain. Doctors are uncertain of the exact cause of CRPS, although it seems to occur most commonly after an injury. In many cases, the initial injury is minor, such as a sprain. Typically, the first indication of the presence of CRPS is that the patient is experiencing pain that is much worse than what should be expected from the injury.
CRPS Diagnosis Based on Common Symptoms
There is not one specific test that doctors can use to definitively diagnose CRPS in a patient. Doctors perform certain diagnostic procedures in order to correlate the presence of certain common symptoms. These tests include MRIs, X-rays, bone scans, thermography, and pain imaging where it is available. Sometimes specialists are consulted for additional assistance in making the diagnosis.
Symptoms of CRPS may involve:
• Sensitivity to touch
• Sensitivity to heat or cold
• Changes in skin color, sometimes red, blue, blotchy, pale
• Changes in skin texture, especially thin and shiny patches
• Rapid hair and nail growth
• Muscle spasms
• Decreased mobility of affected limb or area
• Changes in temperature of the affected area
• Swelling of affected limb or area, and joint pain or stiffness
Types of CRPS
The pain experienced with CRPS is described by patients as being a constant burning or tingling in the limb or area that was originally injured. This pain gets worse instead of better as time goes on. Other common symptoms of CRPS are differentiated by what type of CRPS, type I or type II, the patient is suffering from. Type I CRPS is sometimes referred to as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or RSD. Type II CRPS is also known as causalgia.
These two types differ in the way that the disease manifests itself. In type I, the pain begins in an injured body part, most commonly an arm or leg. The pain then spreads rapidly to other areas of the body without indication of a trigger. In type II, the original pain often begins with damage to a nerve. This type shares the presence of an uncommon amount of pain for the type of injury; however the pain is not typically known to spread at a fast rate the way that type I CRPS does.
What Causes CRPS?
Although the root cause of CRPS is unknown, it is theorized that common symptoms of CRPS come about as a result of a malfunctioning central nervous system. In this theory, the body has an overreaction of the immune response. This would account for the excess swelling, color change, and temperature change.
The onset of CRPS is thought to disrupt the natural healing process. This adds the persistence of pain from the initial injury to the discomfort being experienced from the response of the unnecessary catecholamines, the chemical messengers that are sent out in times of pain or stress.
CRPS is most common in adults between the ages of 20 and 40. Females are diagnosed with CRPS three times more often than males. Some children and teenagers have been diagnosed with CRPS, yet it is uncommon. It is rare for elderly patients to develop CRPS. Approximately 60,000 Americans were suffering from CRPS as of 2012.
Although there is not a sure-fire cure, many patients have responded positively to treatment of common symptoms of CRPS. CRPS affects different patients in different ways, so the treatment program must be individualized. It is always best to start on a treatment program as early as possible. The probability of return of full mobility and function in the effected limb or region decreases as symptoms of CRPS persist. There is much that is still not known about CRPS, and physicians are continuously discovering new facets of the disease, and testing new treatments for it.
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