What is Mitchell’s Disease and How Can it Be Treated?

A patient said that I was “saddled with Mitchell’s disease,” which I had never heard of. After doing some research, I learned Mitchell’s disease is another name for Erythromelalgia. Erythromelalgia is a clinical syndrome that often goes unreported.

Erythromelalgia is a rare pain disorder characterized by a burning ache in the hands and feet. Severe redness and raised skin temperature are also symptoms. Erythromelalgia was called Mitchell’s Disease, named after Silas Weir Mitchell. Mitchell discovered and named the disease in the late 19th Century.

Presently, the cause of Erythromelalgia is unknown. There are a few theories floating around, but researchers think the underlying root is dilation and contraction abnormalities in blood vessels in the hands and feet.


Symptoms can manifest quickly or slowly. Some report a sudden, rapid onset of crippling pain over weeks. Others say that they’ve had relatively mild symptoms for years. Theories suggest that Erythromelalgia does get worse as it goes on. Some cases have even started in the feet, and spread up from the toes to the face and ears. Erythromelalgia is nonfatal, but it is chronic, which can cause interferences with a patient’s daily life.


Some suggest that patients relieve their symptoms by putting their extremities in a colder environment (e.g. ice water). However, in several cases, repeatedly immersing in ice water actually triggered an episode. Most doctors advise patients to stay in a cool environment, but that makes it more difficult for people who live in warmer areas. Topical medications appear to be more helpful, such as a local anesthetic like lidocaine.

As mentioned before, the disease is nonfatal, and most patients can live a normal life. Research into cause and treatment for Erythromelalgia is ongoing.


Erythromelalgia – NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders). NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders). http://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/erythromelalgia/. Accessed August 12, 2016.