The common symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy are severe burning pain, swelling, stiffness and discoloration, usually in the patient's hand, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy can also affect the legs, the feet and the arms.
There are two types of reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and both of them come in stages, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The first type of the condition appears after the patient suffers an injury or illness that does not affect the nerve in his hand or other extremity. In the second type, the nerve in the affected area does suffer some kind of injury.
The first, or acute, stage of reflex sympathetic dystrophy presents with burning pain and sensitivity to touch, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The joints become stiff and swollen, and the affected area becomes red and warm. The patient's nails and hair may grow abnormally fast, and he may suffer from excess sweating. This stage lasts about three months.
Stage 2 is the dystrophic stage, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The swelling in the area is persistent. The wrinkles in the skin vanish, and the skin itself becomes cooler, even as the pain spreads and stiffness increases. The fingernails grow brittle, and the area remains sensitive. This stage can last between three and 12 months.
Stage 3 is the atrophic stage, which happens after a year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The skin over the area becomes pale, shiny, dry and tight, though the pain may lessen. However, the condition may attack other areas of the patient's body.