Erythromelalgia (EM) – Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis
Erythromelalgia is a condition characterized by burning pain, increased skin temperature and severe redness of skin in hands and feet (upper and lower extremities).
The exact cause of this rare condition is not known. It is thought to be the result of vasomotor dysfunction or abnormalities in the dilation (expansion) and constriction (narrowing) of the diameter of certain blood vessels that in turn results in abnormal flow of blood to the upper and lower extremities. Hence is also referred to as neuropathic pain syndrome.
Moreover, nearly 5% of people with this disorder have inherited it from their family members according to research studies, making it a genetic disorder.
Fingers, hands, toes and soles of feet are the affected parts. Symptoms include:
- The symptoms begin with an itching sensation and increase in intensity with more severe and burning pain.
- A few people experience just ‘flare-ups’, whereas some of them complain of continuous burning.
- The affected area becomes tender, warm, swollen and appears red.
- Flare-ups may last for minutes or sometimes days and usually occur later in the day and continue through night.
- Intensity of pain may be severe to the extent that the person cannot walk.
- Warm temperatures and mild exercises may also cause burning sensation.
- In severe cases, people cannot wear socks and closed shoes.
- Very rarely the condition may develop following an illness or injury or a surgery.
- This condition is an early symptom of the onset of more complicated diseases such as thrombocythaemia or polycythaemia.
- Instant pain relief after the intake of aspirin is a typical diagnostic tool.
- A detailed description of symptoms by the patient is another tool to diagnose the disorder.
- Immersing the affected area in hot water for 10-30 minutes may trigger the attack.
The treatment options available for this condition are discussed in the next article.