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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS) and fibromyalgia are two very closely related disorders that often get mistaken for each other. RSDS is more commonly known as “complex regional pain syndrome.
When the two disorders meet in one person, life can become very difficult and painful. While there are treatments for both disorders, understanding their differences is important in helping you make sure that the source of your pain is diagnosed correctly as the treatments for each are radically different.
What is RSDS?
Regional Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome is a very rare disorder of the sympathetic nervous system. The symptom cluster for RSDS includes joint pain, nerve pain, muscle stiffness, difficulty sleeping, disorientation, changes in hair and nail growth, and discoloration of skin in patches.
It is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. There is no known cause for RSDS, although there is a recognized genetic component that has just been discovered. The treatment for RSDS included medication, pain management, nerve blocks, and disruptive surgery to kill nerves in a specific region of the body.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can develop RSDS, although it is more common in those who have had a family member who has had the disorder as well. It is thought that severe physical trauma and traumatic brain injury can also raise your risk of developing the syndrome. There is some slight evidence that those with fibromyalgia also may be at risk for developing the syndrome as well.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that are most recognizable by the presence of pervasive muscle and joint pain, plus muscle stiffness.
Other symptoms may include sleep disturbances, IBS, depression, recurrent yeast infections, chronic cold and flu susceptibility and cervical stenosis. It is a progressive disorder, but not a terminal disease.
It can develop any time after the age of 18, although there are some cases where children have developed fibromyalgia. It can occur in both men and women, although it is more frequently diagnosed in women. Symptoms are lifelong but tend to abate after menopause.
Why is it so hard to diagnose these disorders?
Diagnosing fibromyalgia has been very controversial over the years because it has lacked definitive tests and was based on patient reporting of symptoms.
Recently, two new findings may be leading to a series of tests – a blood test for fibromyalgia and brain image scan for it too – that could wind up making diagnosis much easier.
Diagnosing RSDS has many of the same issues as fibromyalgia, but there are some extensive neuro-testing and observational symptoms that are unique to the disorder that can make it easier to spot.
That said, one of the difficulties in diagnosing RSDS is that many physicians are not familiar with the syndrome and therefore are less likely to perform the diagnostic tests.
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome and fibromyalgia
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that those with fibromyalgia may also be at a higher risk for reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS).
It is thought that the stress of the chronic pain and recurring instances of inflammation may lead to the type of sympathetic nervous system disruption that is experienced by those with RSDS.
Just having fibromyalgia does not mean that you will also acquire RSDS. The diet and lifestyle treatments, plus pain and anti-inflammatory medications used to treat fibromyalgia can very well help prevent the disorder related trauma to the nerve system that would cause the syndrome to develop.
If you are diagnosed with both, you must talk to your doctor about possible courses of treatment.
What to do if your doctor says you have both?
If your doctor returns a diagnosis of both reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS) and fibromyalgia you have to become very proactive in your care and treatment.
You and your physician are going to have to engage in a process of identifying which symptoms belong with which diagnosis in your disorders, and which are shared. This is essential in making sure that you are trying what will be the most effective form of treatment possible for relief.
Some of the more aggressive treatments for RSDS, such as nerve disabling, are not appropriate for handling pain related to fibromyalgia. While you are figuring out the best approach, it is known that for both diagnoses being proactive with lifestyle changes can help greatly.
Being proactive with diet and lifestyle changes
Choose to learn more about the foods you should and should not eat to help control inflammation and other symptoms associated with both RSDS and fibromyalgia. Avoiding foods like the nightshade plants, and additives such as NutraSweet and aspartame are known to help reduce inflammation.
You also need to explore alternative treatments. Some of the treatments such as acupuncture have successfully relieved pain and inflammation for both conditions. Also, getting active is a must.
The more the joints and muscles move the more the body can heal itself and help you to manage pain by releasing appropriate pain controlling hormones. You may need to go on prescribed pain medication in order to begin to build the habit of exercise.
Understanding the goal of pain medications
Pain medication isn’t meant to take away your pain, it is meant to help lower your pain to a more tolerable level. Too much pain medication can cause even worse problems than the original disorder.
The best course of action is to take enough medication to make pain manageable so you can begin to get active again. Physical activity remains the best way to manage muscle, joint, and nerve pain.
Finding ways to improve your quality of life
Whether you have both reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS) and fibromyalgia, or just one – you have to also be proactive in making sure you are still engaging with life.
Chronic pain, depression, and isolation are a common triad. Make an effort to stay connected. Join support groups. Never give up. Chronic pain is something you can learn to live with and return to enjoying life too.
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