The Ehlers-Danlos syndromes are a group of connective tissue disorders that can be inherited and are varied both in how affect the body and in their genetic causes. They are generally characterized by joint hypermobility (joints that stretch further than normal), skin hyperextensibility (skin that can be stretched further than normal), and tissue fragility.
The Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) are currently classified into thirteen subtypes. Each EDS subtype has a set of clinical criteria that help guide diagnosis; a patient’s physical signs and symptoms will be matched up to the major and minor criteria to identify the subtype that is the most complete fit. There is substantial symptom overlap between the EDS subtypes and the other connective tissue disorders including hypermobility spectrum disorders, as well as a lot of variability, so a definitive diagnosis for all the EDS subtypes when the gene mutation is known—all but hypermobile EDS (hEDS)—also calls for confirmation by testing to identify the responsible variant for the gene affected in each subtype.
For those who meet the minimal clinical requirements for an EDS subtype—but who have no access to molecular confirmation; or whose genetic testing shows one (or more) gene variants of uncertain significance in the genes identified for one of the EDS subtypes; or in whom no causative variants are identified in any of the EDS-subtype-specific genes—a “provisional clinical diagnosis” of an EDS subtype can be made. These patients should be followed clinically, but alternative diagnoses and expanded molecular testing should be considered.
Please remember that an individual’s experience with an EDS is their own, and may not necessarily be the same as another person’s experience. Diagnostic criteria are meant solely to distinguish an EDS from other connective tissue disorders, and there are many more possible symptoms for each EDS than there are criteria.
What are the symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndromes?
Clinical manifestations of an Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are most often joint and skin related and may include:
Joint hypermobility; loose/unstable joints which are prone to frequent dislocations and/or subluxations; joint pain; hyperextensible joints (they move beyond the joint’s normal range); early onset of osteoarthritis.
Soft velvety-like skin; variable skin hyper-extensibility; fragile skin that tears or bruises easily (bruising may be severe); severe scarring; slow and poor wound healing; development of molluscoid pseudo tumors (fleshy lesions associated with scars over pressure areas).
Chronic, early onset, debilitating musculoskeletal pain (usually associated with the Hypermobility Type); arterial/intestinal/uterine fragility or rupture (usually associated with the Vascular Type); scoliosis at birth and scleral fragility (associated with the Kyphoscoliosis Type); poor muscle tone (associated with the Arthrochalasia Type); mitral valve prolapse; and gum disease.
Each type of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is defined as a distinct problem in connective tissue. Connective tissue is what the body uses to provide strength and elasticity; normal connective tissue holds strong proteins that allow tissue to be stretched but not beyond its limit, and then safely return that tissue to normal. Connective tissue is found throughout the body, and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes are structural problems. An analogy: If one builds a house with faulty materials, say half the necessary wood or with soft aluminum nails, it is certain there will be problems. Some problems are more likely to show up than others, but because those materials were used everywhere and are not necessarily visible, one can be surprised by where a problem shows up or how serious it is.
It is much the same thing with an Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and connective tissue.
The connective tissue a person with EDS is built with is not structured the way it should be. With a badly-constructed or processed connective tissue, some or all of the tissue in the EDS-affected body can be pulled beyond normal limits which causes damage. Connective tissue can be found almost anywhere, in skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments, blood vessels, organs, gums, eyes, and so on.
The problems resulting from one’s body being built out of a protein that behaves unreliably can be widespread and in a wide range of severity. It shows up in places that seem unrelated until the underlying connection to an Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is recognized.
All information from the Ehlers-Danlos Society. For more info, please click here: