What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome?

Also referred to by doctors as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy(RSDS) is a type of severe pain that can develop in any of the limbs caused by autonomic nervous system damage. Some of the physical characteristics of this syndrome are extreme pain throughout the limb, change to the skin and/or bones, swelling, and limited range of motion.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is a general term, with two subtypes: Type I, the most common and now referred to by medical professionals as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, can develop after an injury or illness and is characterized by complete lack of evidence of nerve damage. In individuals with Type II, also known as Causalgia, it is possible for doctors to identify clear nerve damage. This disorder results in excruciating pain. According to the McGill Pain Index, it has been found to be more painful than limb amputation, childbirth, or cancer.

The causes are not well understood. Doctors believe that RSDS can be caused by an irregularity of the Sympathetic Nervous System which is responsible for controlling blood flow and regulation of blood pressure and heart rate. Normally, when someone is injured, the body tells the blood vessels to constrict in order to prevent blood loss, then open up to allow blood to repair damaged tissue at the site.

When the patient has RSDS, the sympathetic nervous system gets confused with mixed signals, not turning off after the injury. Usually occurring after surgery, stroke, or heart attack, the pain that the patient feels is exponentially worse than the original discomfort of the event that could have caused it. As with most medical ailments, initially, the pain is minimal but can quickly progress to unimaginable pain. The specific physical symptoms are extensive, including but not limited to the following:

  • Extreme swelling, usually to the affected limb or site of the original trauma
  • High sensitivity to wind, touch, noise, vibration, and movement
  • Heightened localized body temperature resulting in excessive sweating
  • Waxy and tight skin texture
  • Changes in skin color, ranging from bright violet to bright pink, sometimes mottled
  • Degeneration of bone mass
  • Muscle spasm or muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass)
  • Fainting
  • Decreased vision

What to do if you Suspect Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome

Early detection is key! Medical professionals don’t always detect RSDS immediately since the symptoms are often associated with normal symptoms after a localized trauma takes place. There are a few tests that are available to help verify if RSDS is present. These tests include a bone scan to check for density and blood flow in the bones, an MRI, X-Rays, or even a thermography test to confirm that the temperature is different than the rest of the body at the affected site. Fortunately, RSDS can be treated, however, a cure-all for this disorder does not exist. Working with a medical professional to find a pain-coping solution that works specifically for the patient is paramount. It is possible to ease most symptoms and go into “remission.”

How Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome can change your Life

RSDS is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body is essentially attacking itself due to irregularities of the nervous system and flaws in signals and communication from the brain. Losing the use of an entire extremity or limb can be debilitating, but losing functionality and dealing with excruciating pain can be crippling, figuratively and literally.

Individuals who suffer from RSDS can also end up with severe anxiety and depression, due to the constant distress of every minute of every day dealing with extensive pain. All of these symptoms, physically and emotionally, can completely change the way an individual moves through life, making gainful employment and meaningful relationships. Due to physical appearance and the amount of pain involved, it is understandable that the individual would be drawn to isolation.

How SSD Benefits can Help

As with any severe illness or disability, it is challenging to cope with the physicality of the ailment while holding full-time employment and attending necessary medical appointments and therapies. Without alternative financial resources, everyday life can be very expensive without income from full-time employment. Whatever the monetary amount of benefits that are approved, Social Security Disability(SSD) benefits can ease the pressure of the obligation to work a full-time job in order to make ends meet.

The Social Security Administration(SSA) has a list of diseases and disorders that are automatically eligible for disability benefits, and cases are often expedited to the “top of the pile” for review and eventual approval if all the documents are in place. Unfortunately, RSDS and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome do not appear on the list, which is called the Compassionate Allowance Programs list. This does not mean that the patient is not eligible, it simply indicates that the case will be reviewed and treated with the same urgency as the rest of the cases that cross the administrations’ desks.

Enlisting an attorney to ensure that a favorable decision is made is beneficial and crucial. Without the professional help of an attorney, the application is cumbersome and can take months to complete, a review can take even longer, and receipt of benefits can take over six months to receive after a decision is reached.

What to do if SSD Benefits are Denied 

Don’t give up hope. Upon denial of benefits, there is an option to appeal within 60 days of the initial decision. The Social Security Administration receives millions of applications for benefits every year, only approving a mere 30%. The Good Law Group has a successful track record helping people who suffer from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome get the benefits they need and deserve.

Who to contact to ensure SSD Benefits are Enlisted

The Good Law Group specializes in ensuring that application deadlines are met, documentation is organized and complete, and has the experience to help expedite your case, and benefits are received as soon as possible. A representative from the Good Law Group can be reached at (847) 577-4476 for a complimentary case evaluation.  

Resources for Support

If you or someone you care about is suffering from RSDS or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a list of support groups by state can be found by clicking here.

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy coping strategies, tips, support, and a list of events for awareness and fundraising is found at the RSDS Association site.