What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?


Type of Disease: Nerve disorder
Crazy Because: Causes searing pain as if on fire
Cure: Complex; disease may spontaneously resolve, but treatment usually only lessens symptoms

Imagine being tormented every waking moment of every day by searing pain in your limbs. Your arms feel like they are on fire, they are swollen, hot to the touch, and you sweat excessively. These are just a few of the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a poorly understood disorder defined by pain in the limbs that is way out of proportion from what is expected following a particular injury or harmful event, such as surgery or stroke. The disease is believed to be caused by an abnormal chain reaction of the sympathetic nervous system, the body system that regulates blood flow and other aspects of the skin. Experts liken the pain response to that of an engine revving out of control.

While the disease may spontaneously disappear on its own, many patients undergo intensive treatments for years just to lessen the pain. And for some patients, the pain can become so profound that they must undergo the most extreme and expensive of therapies -- being placed under a Ketamine coma -- to essentially reset the pain connections of the body. In 2003, under the guidance of German colleagues of renowned RSD specialist Dr. Robert Schwartzman, 14-year-old Lindsay Wurtenberg of the U.S. underwent Ketamine coma-therapy and successfully recovered from a particularly debilitating case of RSD that developed following a harmless spider bite. "I donít think there is a worse pain problem," said Dr. Schwartzman of Lindsayís condition. He was probably right. //Jessica Adams