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Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1998 Apr;79(4):424-9.

Severe complications of reflex sympathetic dystrophy: infection, ulcers, chronic edema, dystonia, and myoclonus.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University Hospital Nijmegen, The Netherlands.



To determine the prevalence, type of complication, predisposing factors, and treatment for severe complications in a population of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) patients.


Retrospective analysis of the data from RSD patients collected over a 12-year period, to investigate the involvement of predisposing factors in an RSD population without severe complications compared with an RSD population with severe complications.


Outpatient clinic of a department of surgery of a university hospital.


A total of 1,006 patients with the diagnosis of RSD established according to prospectively defined criteria.


The signs and symptoms of every RSD patient who visited the department were prospectively documented in the medical history; these data were retrospectively analyzed with special regard to RSD with severe complications-infection, ulcers, chronic edema, dystonia, and/or myoclonus-for prevalence, type of complication, and treatment.


Seventy-four RSD patients who were mostly young and female developed severe complications. More than one complication occurred in 91% of the affected extremities. Severe complications developed more frequently in the lower extremity (65%). In patients in whom the acute RSD started with a decreased skin temperature of the affected extremity, severe complications developed significantly more often than in acute RSD patients with a warm skin temperature of the extremity from the onset of the disease (p < .001).


It is important to recognize "cold" RSD immediately at the onset of the disease because this group of RSD patients has a higher risk of developing a severe complication, mostly followed by a severe disability that is resistant to therapy.

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