New Treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Scientists have discovered a new treatment for people who suffer with complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic pain condition for which there are currently no effective therapies. The pain can be so severe that some patients request amputation, only to then find that the pain returns in the stump.
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which is also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by severe, relentless pain that affects between 200,000 and 1.2 million Americans and about 1 in 5,000 people in the United Kingdom, the site of the current study. According to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association, CRPS is two to three times more common in females than males, and the mean age at diagnosis is 42 years.
A research team at the Pain Research Institute at the University of Liverpool discovered that a single, low-dose infusion of intravenous immunoglobin (IVIG) provided significant pain relief in nearly 50 percent of patients treated. IVIG is a blood product that contains immunoglobulin G extracts from the plasma of more than 1,000 blood donors. It is used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, immune deficiencies, and acute infections. In this study, the pain relief lasted on average five weeks.
Symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome typically develop after an individual experience an injury or trauma to a limb, and the pain continues after the injury has healed. The injury or trauma may be significant, such as surgery, or minor, such as a sprain or a fall. CPRS is believed to be a malfunction of the nervous system, in which nerves misfire and send constant pain signals to the brain.
Two main types can occur: CRPS I can arise after any type of injury, while CRPS II develops after partial damage to a nerve. In some cases, CRPS pain improves within one year of the injury, but when it persists beyond that point (termed longstanding CRPS), then the chances that it will ever improve are not promising. Symptoms of CRPS can be life-altering and include persistent moderate-to-severe pain, abnormal skin color changes, sweating, swelling, limited range of movement, and movement disorders.
Dr. Andreas Goebel, Senior Lecturer in Pain Medicine, noted that “IVIG is normally repeated every four weeks and we are working to develop ways which would allow patients to administer the treatment in their own home.” The study’s authors note that the new treatment for complex regional pain syndrome may also benefit people who suffer from other unexplained chronic pain conditions.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association
University of Liverpool news release, Feb. 2, 2010