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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Jan;75(1):98-102.

Persistence of pain induced by startle and forehead cooling after sympathetic blockade in patients with complex regional pain syndrome.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.



Stimuli arousing sympathetic activity can increase ratings of clinical pain in patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).


To determine whether the increase in pain is mediated by peripheral sympathetic activity.


The effect of sympathetic ganglion blockade on pain evoked by a startle stimulus and cooling the forehead was investigated in 36 CRPS patients.


Loss of vasoconstrictor reflexes and warming of the limb indicated that sympathetic blockade was effective in 26 cases. Before sympathetic blockade, pain increased in 12 of these 26 patients when they were startled. Pain increased in seven of the 12 patients and in another five cases when their forehead was cooled. As expected, pain that increased during sympathetic arousal generally subsided in patients with signs of sympathetic blockade. However, pain still increased in three of 12 of patients after the startle stimulus and in six of 12 of patients during forehead cooling, despite indisputable sympathetic blockade.


These findings suggest that stimuli arousing sympathetic activity act by a central process to exacerbate pain in some patients, independent of the peripheral sympathetic nervous system. This may account for the lack of effect of peripheral sympathetic blockade on pain in some CRPS patients.

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