Phantom Limb Syndrome
(Phantom Pain; Phantom Limb; Neuropathic Pain)
DefinitionPhantom limb syndrome is the perception of sensations, including pain, in a limb that has been amputated. People with this condition experience feelings in the limb as if it were still attached to their body. This is because the brain continues to receive messages from nerves that originally carried impulses from the missing limb.
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CausesThe exact cause of phantom limb syndrome is unknown. It is thought that the sensations are due to the brain’s attempt to reorganize sensory information following the amputation. The brain must essentially rewire itself to adjust to the changes in the body.
Risk FactorsPhantom limb syndrome is more common in adults than in children. Other factors that may increase your chance of developing phantom limb syndrome include:
- Preamputation pain
- A blood clot in the amputated limb
- Preamputation infection
- Previous damage to spinal cord or peripheral nerves that supplied the affected limb
- Traumatic amputation
- Type of anesthesia used during the amputation
SymptomsSymptoms may occur in people who have had a limb removed and people who are born without a limb. The symptoms are perceived in a limb that does not exist.Phantom limb syndrome may cause sensations of:
- Shooting, stabbing, piercing, or burning pain
- An article of clothing or jewelry
- The limb still being attached and functioning normally
- Numbness, tickling, or cramping
DiagnosisFollowing an amputation, it is important to tell your doctor if you experience pain or other sensations. Earlier treatment generally improves the chances of success.There is no medical test to diagnose phantom pain. You will be asked about your medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will especially want to know about the signs, symptoms, and circumstances that occurred before and after the removal of the limb. Diagnosis can be made based on your symptoms of any sensations from the missing limb.
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