The symptoms of CRPS can vary considerably over time and from person to person.
Whilst it is largely now considered to be bad practice to attempt to define CRPS in terms of stages, some doctors continue to do so. Many people exhibit severe symptoms immediately, whilst in others the onset is far more gradual. Also, not every CRPS sufferer experiences all of these symptoms. Accordingly, an attempt to divide the onset of symptoms into stages can be artificial and misleading. However, historically, the onset was categorised as follows:
Stage One (The Acute Stage)
Typically lasting from one to three months and characterised by:
- Changes to the skin – typically a change in tone and feel, often becoming shiny with additional sweating.
- Changes in circulation can lead to a variation in skin colour, ranging from black to purple, blue or even white and some people report blotches or spots.
- Temperature change in the affected limb, changing between warm and cold for no discernible reason. It is at this stage that sufferers often hear the term ‘Warm/Hot CRPS’ and ‘Cold CRPS’. The former is used to describe limbs that feel considerably warmer than other parts of the body, but as CRPS progresses, this then gives way to the chronic phase when the affected limb will experience ‘Cold CRPS’.
- Severe burning pain in the affected limb which worsens at the slightest touch.
- The rapid growth of hair and / or nails on the affected limb.
- Swelling / joint pain and muscle spasms.
Stage Two (The Dystrophic Stage)
Common at between three to six months and characterised by:
- Worsening levels of pain which by then has usually spread from the initial area.
- Weakened muscles and stiff joints.
- Thinning or wrinkling which can turn a bluish colour due to a lack of oxygen in the blood or poor circulation.
- Cracking of the nails.
- A slowing of the previously rapid hair growth.
Stage Three (The Atrophic Stage)
This is the said to be the start of the condition becoming entrenched and irreversible. It is characterised by:
- Constant and largely unvarying pain in the entire limb, with muscle wasting;
- Limited movement throughout the limb as a result of tightened muscles and tendons.
Whilst early treatment is best, even following a very late diagnosis, treatment can still be of benefit to some people at Stage Three.
As leading CRPS Solicitors, we often encounter new clients who have already reached the Atrophic Stage. Sadly, even with greater awareness of CRPS among clinicians, in many cases there remains a failure to diagnose the condition at an early stage.
Some but not all doctors refer to Stage Four CRPS where the condition has become resistant to treatment and where internal organs are affected. Most CRPS sufferers will never reach this stage.
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