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Clinical experience using intrathecal (IT) bupivacaine infusion in three patients with complex regional pain syndrome type I (CRPS-I).

BACKGROUND AND AIM: To date, there is no reliable method for treating the severe pain and for modifying the natural evolution of CRPS-I. Therefore, we explored the effect of long-term IT bupivacaine infusion (with or without buprenorphine) on this syndrome.


PATIENTS: two women and one man, 25, 31 and 42 years old, with CRPS-I of the lower (n=2) or upper (n=1) extremity lasting for 4 and 5 months, and 14 years. (b)

INTERVENTIONS: insertion of externalized IT catheters; IT infusion of buprenorphine 0.015 mg/ml and bupivacaine 4.75 mg/ml (n=1), or only bupivacaine 5 mg/ml (n=2) from external electronic pumps.

RESULTS: The IT treatment lasted for 172, 282 and 668 days. The mean/maximal daily doses of the IT bupivacaine were 39/66, 55/80 and 69/125 mg, respectively. The pain intensity decreased from VASmean =7+/-1 to VASmean =2+/-2. None of the patients had regression of allodynia, edema, and trophic disturbances in the affected extremities. In 2 patients, the IT treatment did not prevent spread of the disease to the opposite extremity or the occurrence of phantom pain and stump allodynia after amputation. The IT catheters were withdrawn as being no longer needed: in 2 patients 56 and 458 days after amputation of the involved extremity, and in another one before replacement of the IT bupivacaine infusion with epidural dorsal column stimulation (EDCS). After termination of the IT treatment, the patients were observed for 1437, 1575, and 2689 days (until September 1, 1998). At that date, all the patients were alive, and still affected by their CRPS-I, either in the amputation stump (n=2), and/or in the opposite or remote extremities (n=2); further, two were unemployed and one worked for 75% of the time. One of them was taking up to 1500 mg of slow-release morphine to cope with pain.

CONCLUSION: The IT pain treatment with bupivacaine (with or without buprenorphine) alleviated the "refractory" pain, but affected neither the associated symptoms and signs of the CRPS-I, nor its natural evolution. Thus, the IT treatment cannot be recommended in preference to other pain treatment regimens for CRPS-I.

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