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Dutch research finds treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy

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BOSTON (Reuters) — Dutch researchers seeking better treatments for a complex, painful condition that can afflict young people found electrical stimulation and repeated injections of a muscle relaxant could help.

Known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD, the condition usually appears after a minor injury to an arm or leg and produces an inordinate amount of pain and hypersensitivity in the affected area.

It is "a devastating, life-altering illness that frequently affects young people," said Dr. Robert Schwartzman of MCP Hahnemann University in Philadelphia in an editorial in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, where the two studies appear.

In one study, Dr. Bob van Hilten of Leiden University Medical Center and his colleagues injected the muscle relaxant baclofen into seven women, who were also hooked up to special devices that regularly pumped the drug into their spinal cords.

Baclofen is sold under the brand name Lioresal by Ciba-Geigy AG.

The injections initially relieved rigidity in the hands for six of the seven women, but there was no improvement in their legs. With a continuous infusion of the drug, three women could use their hands normally again and two of them were able to walk again.

In the second study, a team led by Dr. Marius Kemler of Maastricht University Hospital used electrical stimulation to the spinal cord to see if that would relieve pain in the affected area. The electrodes were only implanted if an initial test of the procedure was successful.

"In carefully selected patients," the researchers said, "electrical stimulation of the spinal cord can reduce pain and improve health-related quality of life."