Erythromelalgia (EM) is a chronic disorder characterized by intermittent burning pain, warmth and erythema of the extremities. Increasing the local temperature and dependency of the affected limb(s) precipitates the symptoms, whereas direct cooling and elevation of the limb(s) can provide partial relief. Our previous findings showed that patients with EM have enhanced cutaneous vascular tone at rest and during stimulation, which may be due to an increase in sympathetic neural activity. To test this, we measured skin vasoconstrictor responses to contralateral arm cold challenge (CC) and inspiratory gasp (IG) using laser Doppler flowmetry at the toe pulp and fingertip. These areas were chosen because of their dense sympathetic innervation. An index of the vasoconstrictor response (between 0 and 1) was calculated from the change in skin perfusion from baseline following CC and IG. In control subjects, vasoconstrictor responses to CC at the toe and fingertip were both 0.70±0.02 (mean±S.E.M.), which were significantly greater (P < 0.001) than corresponding values in patients with EM (0.37±0.04 and 0.45±0.04 respectively). Similarly, vasoconstrictor responses to IG were significantly greater (P < 0.001) at the toe and fingertip in control subjects (0.70±0.03 and 0.70±0.02 respectively) compared with values in EM patients (0.27±0.03 and 0.45±0.15 respectively). These data show that, in contrast with control subjects, patients with EM have diminished sympathetic vasoconstrictor responses to both CC and IG. Denervation supersensitivity may play a part by increasing vasoconstrictor responses to circulating catecholamines, leading to a reduction in skin blood flow. Therefore an interplay between neural and vasoactive agents may be involved in the pathophysiology of EM.

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