Purpose: The complex regional pain syndrome type I (CRPS I) is a painful neuropathic disorder with an antecedent disproportionate trauma leading to spontaneous pain, hyperalgesia, impaired motor function, swelling, changes in sweating and vascular abnormalities without nerve injury. Whether this syndrome is the result of central or peripheral autonomic dysfunction is still a matter of debate. The purpose of this study was to determine the activity of the sympathetic nervous system in patients with CRPS I by power spectral analysis of heart rate variability.
Patients and methods: This is a pilot study on 6 patients (mean age 50 years; 4 female, 2 male) diagnosed as suffering from CRPS I and 6 age-matched healthy controls. In the pain-free interval and after taking rest for 5 min, 512 subsequent heart beats were obtained with an ECG standard lead II in the supine and then sitting position. Using an autoregressive model, power spectral densities were calculated for the following frequency bands: <0.040 Hz (very low frequency; VLF), 0.040-0.150 Hz (low frequency; LF) and 0.150-0.4 Hz (high frequency; HF). The sympatho-vagal balance is expressed by the ratio of the low-frequency component (LF) to the high-frequency component (HF) of the power spectrum.
Results: Significant differences in the mean LF/HF ratios were found in the patients with CRPS I compared to the healthy controls in the supine position (LF/HF=4.01 vs. LF/HF=1.27; p=0.041). The application of stress by changing to the sitting position even increased that difference (6.72 vs. 1.93).
Conclusions: Our results support the hypothesis that the pathogenesis of the early stage CRPS I might be related to an increased sympathetic activity. By assessing the autonomic influence on the heart rate variability in CRPS I patients we could also conclude that this disturbance occurs rather at a central level.
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart, New York.