Central pain syndrome is a neurological condition caused by damage to the central nervous system, which includes the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord.
Central pain syndrome can be caused by many things, including strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, limb amputations, brain injuries, or spinal cord injuries. Although it can appear immediately after an injury, CPS may develop months or years after damage to the central nervous system.
Symptoms of central pain syndrome can be identified by a mixture of pain sensations, the most prominent being a constant burning that is sometimes increased by touch. Pain also increases in the presence of temperature changes, most often cold temperatures. A loss of sensation may occur in affected areas, mostly on distant parts of the body like the hands and feet. There may also be brief, intolerable bursts of sharp pain on occasion. The disorder can be limited to a specific area of the body (such as the hands or feet) or may be widespread over a large portion of the body. Some areas of the body may be more intensely affected than other areas and pain may fluctuate throughout the day.
In most cases, the pain is constant and usually moderate to severe in intensity. Though in some cases, pain has been described as agonizing. Some affected individuals may experience short bursts of sharp pain, not unlike the pain that occurs when a dental probe hits an exposed nerve. In some cases, the constant the pain affects the patient’s ability to perform daily tasks and significantly impairs quality of life.
In most circumstances, central pain syndrome remains a lifelong condition. Though, there are ways to treat the symptoms to make it much more tolerable.
Treating central pain syndrome can prove to be a challenge. Therapies that have proven beneficial for some patients may have zero benefits for others. Pain medications and anti-inflammatories often provide some reduction of pain, but not complete relief. However, some antidepressants and anticonvulsants have proven to be useful. Two drugs in particular, lamotrigine and amitriptyline, have proven beneficial, especially for patients with central pain of brain origin. Lamotrigine is an anti-seizure (or anti-convulsant) medication and amitriptyline is an antidepressant. Antiarrhythmics and local anesthetics such as lidocaine can be effective as well. In most cases, the effectiveness of medications are limited because of the associated side effects. Some patients may find temporary relief from sedation or stress reduction techniques.