Sympathectomy for causalgia: experience with military injuries

J Trauma. 2000 Aug;49(2):266-71. doi: 10.1097/00005373-200008000-00012.


Background: Causalgia is a rare disease in civilian practice, and most reports regarding causalgia in the literature are from major extended wars. To increase awareness of this syndrome, our wartime experience with this disease is presented.

Methods: The charts of patients with causalgia referred to two university hospitals for treatment from 1985 to 1989 were retrospectively studied. Characteristics of the cause, clinical manifestations, and the response to therapy were evaluated.

Results: Among 1,564 patients with peripheral nerve injuries, there were 54 cases (3.4%) of causalgia. All of the patients, except five, were injured in battle by high-velocity bullets or missiles. Upper extremities were involved in 28 patients (52 %) and lower extremities in 26 patients (48%). The most common presenting symptoms were as follows: burning pain, 100%; wet extremity, 100%; cold extremity, 93%; sensitivity to cold, 89%; paresthesia, 78%; and color changes in the extremities, 55%. In 48 patients (89%), pain was relieved by sympathetic block (3 patients had permanent cure). Six patients had no response to the blocks (11%). Of 45 patients who had temporary relief, all underwent sympathectomy. All of these patients had complete relief of symptoms in the immediate postoperative period and for follow-up from 1 to 6 years.

Conclusion: Causalgia is essentially a war casualty disease. The condition is associated with burning pain, hyperesthesia, and symptoms of sympathetic overactivity. Sympathectomy is effective and the treatment of choice, particularly for patients who respond temporarily to sympathetic blocks.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Causalgia / epidemiology
  • Causalgia / etiology
  • Causalgia / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iran / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel*
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sympathectomy*
  • Wounds, Penetrating / complications*