CRPS Symptoms

FOUR Main Symptoms/Criteria for a diagnosis of CRPS:

  • Chronic burning pain – includes allodynia; extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, vibration, wind, and temperature.
  • Inflammation – this can affect the appearance of the skin; bruising, mottling, shiny appearance, blotchy or pale appearance, and tiny red dots are some examples.
  • Spasms – in blood vessels and muscles of the extremities, called vasoconstriction,
  • Insomnia/Emotional Disturbance – (including limbic system changes such as short-term memory problems, concentration difficulties, and irritability).

Not all four symptoms are required for a diagnosis but most patients do have at least three out of the four at any one time. There are a great many additional symptoms that can occur but not all patients will have all symptoms. Some of the symptoms may even be transient depending on the Stage the patient is in; the time of day, weather, noise level, current medications, whether or not the patient was treated with ice or hot/cold contrast therapy, etc. What makes this disease even more difficult for Doctors to diagnose and treat is that patients can present with different symptoms at different times, even from one appointment to the next.

1) The CONSTANT PAIN can be described as a burning pain. It feels as if a red hot poker were inserted into the affected area. it is also described as throbbing, aching stabbing, sharp, tingling, and/or crushing in the effected area; this is not always the site of the trauma. The effected area is usually hot or cold to the touch. The pain will be more severe than anticipated for the type of injury sustained. This is a hallmark of the disease. Allodynia is typically present as well. Allodynia is an extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, vibration, barometric pressure changes, loud noises, wind/breeze, temperature, clothing, and even the gentle touch of a loved one. This makes it increasingly difficult on the spouses, children, and other family members; as their softest touch can now cause pain instead of comfort. If the patient has not been properly diagnosed yet and these sensations not properly explained, these symptoms can cause extreme duress and confusion to all involved. For more on “What Does CRPS Feel Like” click here.

2) The INFLAMMATION is not always present in the same form but it can take various forms; the skin may appear mottled, become easily bruised, bleeding in the skin, small red dots, have a shiny, dry, red, and “tight” look to it. In addition; increase in sweating usually occurs as well as swelling in and around the joints (shoulders, knees, wrists). In some patients a lack of sweating may occur, and some even go back and forth between the two.

3) The SPASMS result in a feeling of coldness in the effected extremity as well as body fatigue, skin rashes, low-grade fever, swelling (edema), sores, dystonia, and tremors. The spasms can be confined to one area or be rolling in nature; moving up and down the leg, arm, or back. They can involve not only muscles but also blood vessels.

4) The fourth part of this square is INSOMNIA and EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCE. CRPS affects the limbic system of the brain. Doctor Hooshang Hooshmand described it well: “The fact that the sympathetic sensory nerve fibers carrying the sympathetic pain and impulse up to the brain terminate in the part of the brain called “limbic system”. This limbic (marginal) system which is positioned between the old brain (brainstem) and the new brain (cerebral hemispheres) is mainly located over the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain.” This causes many problems that might not initially be linked to a disease like CRPS; chief among them are depression, insomnia and short-term memory problems but also includes agitation, irritability, and possibly even poor judgement.

CRPS can cause Depression, NOT the other way around.

CRPS causes insomnia by not allowing the body to drift into REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep. This is the sleep that allows the body to use its own healing abilities. Without it, the patient’s pain cycle continues and becomes more entrenched. As the body cannot heal itself, it becomes harder to achieve that sleep, which makes the pain worse and so the cycle continues. Many patients can feel they are losing their mind as their ability to remember things, short-term, greatly decreases. Things like: what someone told you an hour ago, what you had for lunch yesterday, whether you took your pills this morning, what you were just talking about, etc., are quickly forgotten. You are NOT losing your mind. Loss of short-term memory is part and parcel of CRPS. Other signs of problems here would include the inability to think of, um, well, ah, hmm, just the right word. The patient’s ability to concentrate is also lessened while their level of irritability is increased. These problems get even worse as the sleep cycle continues to worsen, weeks and months on end building a sleep deficit you cannot seem to recover from.

Do these symptoms sound familiar to you? Do you also sometimes have an increase in your pain when your stress level is higher? Or the noise level is higher? Do you want to crawl into a hole by yourself and pull it in after you? Does the simple rustling of a newspaper or the soft touch of your spouse send you through the ceiling in pain? Do you sometimes have trouble finding a certain word? Do you sometimes completely lose track of what you are saying? If these symptoms sound familiar, know this; you are NOT crazy and you are NOT losing your mind. You are also not alone, not anymore.

ADDITIONAL SYMPTOMS

There are many additional symptoms that can be part of CRPS besides the four main ones. These include but are not limited to;

– changes in skin temperature (warmer or cooler compared to the healthy/opposite limb).
– changes in skin color (skin may appear red, dusky, covered with red dots, cyanotic, blotchy, or pale).
– hypersensitivity to touch, sound, vibration, wind, noise, temperature, barometric pressure changes, water temperature, etc.
– irritability.
– depression, fatigue, and/or insomnia.
– changes in hair/nail growth (nails can become brittle, cracked, or grooved – increased/decreased hair/nail growth).
– skin can become shiny, changes in sweating patterns – increase/decreases.
– bone and muscle loss/changes, atrophy/weakness.
– swelling and stiffness in effected joints.
– throbbing, crushing, tingling, shooting, aching, stabbing, burning pain in the effected area.
– tremors (shakes).
– problems moving the effected extremity/body part.
– migraines/cluster headaches.

These symptoms can come and go and alternate over time, changing from month to month and year to year depending what stage the patient is in, what treatment they are on, what medications they are using, how successful these treatments are, how the disease is progressing, and/or what other disease(s) might be introduced along the way. One of the many problems for Doctors in treating this disease is that many patients present differently and the symptoms can vary not only with the stage the patient is in but even the time of day the patient sees the Doctor! Therefore it is vital that you keep a journal of your symptoms to share with your physician. Remember, you are a partner in your healing.

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