Complex regional pain syndrome refers to a type of chronic pain syndrome that is thought to be the result of damage to the peripheral or central nervous system, typically after an acute injury to a limb. This is a vexing condition in which the malfunctioning nervous system produces signals that result in the perception of continued pain, even after the original injury has healed.
CRPS Types 1 and 2
Two types of complex regional pain syndromes exist. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome I was previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy. CRPS I refers to prolonged or excessive pain and changes in temperature or skin color, accompanied in many cases by swelling, in the absence of a confirmed nerve injury.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome II (CRPS II) is characterized by the same symptoms, but the patients classified with CRPS II have confirmed nerve injuries diagnosed by neurologic testing. CRPS II has also been known in the past as causalgia.
Both syndromes are characterized by significant pain over a prolonged period that is frequently debilitating. The pain experienced by patients with these conditions may be constant and severe. Patients frequently describe the painful sensations as “burning,” or as a “pins and needles” sensation. These descriptions are typical of neuropathic pain, or pain that originates in the nervous system.
These syndromes may also result in extreme sensitivity to touch. These sensory changes can extend beyond the area of the initial injury, to include one or both limbs.
Because the central nervous system affects the nerves that control temperature and blood flow, patients with Central Regional Pain Syndromes may simultaneously experience temperature changes, changes in skin color, and changes in the texture of the skin. The syndrome may result in changes in sweating in the affected area, or in difficulty with movement of the affected limb. Sufferers may also be affected by abnormal movements, including tremors or abnormal involuntary positioning of the affected body part.
There remains some uncertainty about the exact factors that trigger development of CRPS, although data suggests both components of immune system involvement and genetic predisposition, in addition to the inciting injury. Both peripheral nerves and blood vessels are involved in causation of the pain associated with this syndrome.
Most cases of CRPS seem to be mild and spontaneously resolve, gradually over time. Unfortunately, however, some individuals continue to experience severe symptoms and may have permanent significant pain and disability as a result of the syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
The most common signs and symptoms of CRPS are the following:
- Severe, prolonged pain beyond the area of injury
- Swelling (neuropathic edema) of arms or legs
- Changes in skin temperature or color (autonomic dysfunction)
- Movement disorder
If you are experiencing unrelieved pain after an injury has healed, or if you are experiencing abnormal skin changes that include color, temperature abnormalities or increased sensitivity to touch, you should see a specialist in the treatment of pain who can begin to rule out other causes for your symptoms. The diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion in part, which means that testing will be done to eliminate the possibility of other serious conditions. It is important to see a physician to diagnose your condition, as treatment is available, and evidence suggests early treatment is associated with a better prognosis. There are multiple treatment modalities in use for this complex and debilitating problem.
Medical professionals are trained in the recognition of this potentially catastrophic pain syndrome. The failure to recognize sings and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome in a hospital or medical setting, and the failure to timely diagnose and treat this condition may be actionable medical malpractice.
If you have been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome after an injury, these late signs and symptoms may be an unexpected development. If your injury resulted in litigation, this is an important piece of information to take to your attorney.
If you have undergone a recent medical procedure and have developed symptoms and signs of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, you may have recourse to legal remedies of compensation for pain and suffering and for medical expenses. You should consult a top Chicago malpractice attorney today for an evaluation of your case.