In order to find pieces of evidence for a central origin of autonomic failure in complex regional pain syndrome I (CRPS I), the pattern of autonomic symptoms in CRPS I patients was compared to patients a few days after stroke. Autonomic failure in the latter group is assumed to represent
definite CNS origin. Seventeen stroke patients, 21 patients in the acute and late stage of CRPS I and a control group of 23 healthy subjects were investigated. Detailed neurological examination was performed, sweating was induced centrally (thermoregulatory sweating, TST) and peripherally
by carbachol iontophoresis (QSART) and quantified by evaporation hygrometry. Skin temperature was assessed by infrared thermography. The incidence of motor-sensory dysfunction (without pain) and the incidence of edema was strikingly similar in stroke and CRPS patients. Furthermore, stroke
patients had increased TST but not QSART responses on the contralesional limb (P<0.05) and skin temperature was decreased (P<0.001). The same pattern of autonomic failure was found in late CRPS (TST: P<0.02, skin temperature: P<0.01) whereas in acute
CRPS additional, presumably peripheral mechanisms, contribute to sympathetic symptoms. In conclusion, our investigation suggests that many clinical symptoms and the main features of sympathetic dysfunction in CRPS could be explained by a CNS pathophysiology.