Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders

Rectangular image with a computer generated fan-shaped design featuring many shades of grey spanning from lighter on the bottom left, to darker toward the upper right

It’s not black and white folks

After much ado and chomping at the bit, the brand new 2017 International EDS Classification scheme is out since March 15th, 2017, including the brand spanking new, fresh off the press diagnostic category called:

Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders

In addition to identifying 7 new rare types of the now pluralized Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes for a total of 13 recognized as of March 2017, the International Hypermobile Work Group hatched this entire new diagnostic category of Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders as the catch-all bin for all of those who show signs of a connective tissue disorder involving varying degrees of hypermobility, but not enough to meet the new criteria for the still most common yet now “rare” again hypermobile form of EDS (aka “hEDS” now), nor show any signs of any of the more rare forms, or any other heritable connective tissue disorders.

In other words, you are bendy to some degree, but either asymptomatic, or if symptomatic, you are sub-clinical for hEDS now since March 2017. I personally suspect most who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia at this time, but I’m not a doctor.

And, like hEDS, we have not been able to finger a single genetic mutation or SNP to blame for this new category. And, please note that the newly tightened hEDS criteria, and these new forms of Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders now obsolete and supplant the older terms and diagnoses of HMS, JHS and BJHS. I.e, these latter have been “folded into” the spectrum including hEDS and HSDs now, going forward. I’m not sure how they plan to handle pre-existing diagnoses but check with The Ehlers-Danlos Society.

So, like IBS, it is a diagnosis of exclusion once all other likely causes are ruled out, but the patient still shows signs of hypermobility of varying degrees, with or without symptoms. Some people are just bendy with no apparent issues. The could just be related to someone with a form of connective tissue disease that lends to this.

Yet others like myself, have so stiffened with early onset arthritis and age (despite being extremely bendy prior), that we no longer meet the newly tightened age and sex specific Beighton 9 pt hypermobility scale cut off for hEDS or any other form, but we suffer loads with plenty of disabling and even sometimes life threatening issues just the same after ruling out all other likely CTDs.

HOWEVER, The Ehlers-Danlos Society have tried (keyword!) to make it abundantly clear that no one who has previously been diagnosed with the hypermobile form of the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome(s) has to give up their diagnosis – yet! 

The only reason anyone might be re-evaluated or should, is if they were to try to enter into any form of research for hypermobile type EDS, in which case the new, universally accepted (or at least rolled-out) criteria will be applied. Unless a doctor arbitrarily decides to simply reject a prior diagnosis, which is on the doctor, not the patient. Yes, I’ve heard a couple of early horror stories of this happening already in some places, and patient complaints being wrongly discarded or dismissed – please think twice before doing this please, doctors and nurses! 

As I’ve been telling people in my support groups, it’s much like what happened to our dear 9th planet Pluto back in 2006 when we re-classified it to a “dwarf planet” (from a “full” planet prior): Pluto did not change a spot or stop orbiting one iota! It’s still the same exact heavenly body and planetoid neighbor we’ve always known and loved.

We humans simply changed our minds about its classification. Like Pluto, I still hurt (orbit) and struggle (and suffer!) just as much or more as I did before right? I didn’t change a spot. I still need and deserve all of the medical attention and support I did previously, regardless of the name you wish to give my condition.

To be clear, I have NOT been re-diagnosed, nor need to be unless I try to join a research project, and then my final diagnosis still remains to be seen at that time. So I do still technically have hEDS yet. But… I’m just trying to be a bit pedantic and calm some of the anxiety “out there” I’ve seen erupt since these new criteria came out. 

Further, I’m even seeing a little benefit emerge, as the support group leader for my regional (highly comorbid) MCAD group. Where everyone had been dismissing my suspicions of EDS in them before, as they felt they were not “bendy enough”, now they are giving the new HSD category some real consideration to my relief: mastocytosis and MCAS do NOT cause bursitis and chondromalacia patella, hernias, prolapses, loose teeth and tendinitis, TYVM!

In fact, here’s a chart I adapted from the last page of this document from The Ehlers-Danlos Society showing the “spectrum” in a table. It roughly ranges from the mildest to the most symptomatic top to bottom, bendy or not:

Table showing The new Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders

The new Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders

As you can see, both the (top three, in purple text) asymptomatic and (next three, in black text) symptomatic forms come in 3 “flavors”:

  1. Generalized Joint Hypermobility (you “pass” with a high Beighton hypermobility Score)
  2. Peripheral Joint Hypermobility (it’s typically limited to hands and/or feet)
  3. Localized Joint Hypermobility (it’s limited to single joints or body parts)

Then the symptomatic forms (aka “disorders” listed toward the bottom) have one additional “flavor” called “Historical”, indicating that someone may once have been quite bendy, in a generalized way (like myself) but is no longer, but are still symptomatic with musculoskeletal complaints. This is what I think I would most likely fit now if I were to be re-evaluated as I’m no longer bendy enough to pass the age and sex-specific Beighton score for hEDS now. 

Again, much like dear Pluto, I haven’t changed a thing – I’ve simply aged in place, and stiffened with age and early onset spinal and other arthritis. Plus my muscles are very tight from 50 years of holding my very loose skelly together thanks to my loose ligaments and tendons all these years.

I wish to make it abundantly clear as The EDS have tried to also, that the 4 forms of Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (just above hEDS at the bottom of the chart above) are not necessarily any better or worse than hEDS. They just do not meet the newly narrowed hypermobile criteria for hEDS. I am definitely more symptomatic than many even with hEDS now, even per the newly tightened criteria.

And, hopefully it’s clear that some people (at the top of the list) are apparently just bendy, but don’t seem to have any issues, or at least not yet, smile. (If ever, lucky dogs.) But others who are only a little bendy or unstable in just a few joints (e.g. just knees, or just hands and feet, or one weak ankle for instance) but have many other symptoms characteristic of a connective tissue disorder (e.g. FGID, IBS, hernias, prolapses, fallen arches, weak teeth, myopia, more) will now be considered for a diagnosis of a Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder.

If anything, it looks like I “caught” hEDS in 2012 (when I finally was diagnosed), only to “cure” or “lose” it in 2017. Obviously we know it’s not contagious and this is not possible, but I trust you see my point? It’s all a matter of semantics. As The EDS say:

“HSD, just like hEDS, can have significant effects on our health. Whatever the problems that arise, whatever the diagnosis, it is important that these effects are managed appropriately and that each person is treated as an individual. HSD and hEDS can be equal in severity, but more importantly, both need similar management, validation, and care.”

And while there’s technically no cure for any of the forms of EDS nor the newly recognized forms of the new HSD category, there is supportive treatment and preventative measures you can take to avoid needless or excessive injury and prolong your joint health as I’m slowly proving along with a handful of others. (We’re finding various nutritional therapies and custom PT and body work and movement to be most beneficial. Yes, basically “diet and exercise” but with a lot of customization!) So it’s worth knowing this is also something you’re dealing with in my opinion, to minimize your pain levels (pain is a mast cell trigger too), and stay as well as possible.

I hope this has helped to clarify when to suspect and diagnose the new category of Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders a bit. This is new for ALL of us in 2017, so please be patient with everyone, doctors and fellow patients and support group leaders as we all work to wrap our arms and brains around this new diagnosis. I am hopeful that it will allow even more people to receive much needed pain and other support and management instead of just being dismissed for not meeting any other criteria.

As I said on Facebook where I started a new Oh TWIST Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders “Pool”, come on in, the water is fine!