Australian singer/songwriter Sia (born Sia Kate Isobelle Furler), 43, is known for wearing elaborate wigs and headpieces that hide her face. However, the “Chandelier” singer is not hiding the fact that she was recently diagnosed with the connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
“Hey, I’m suffering with chronic pain, a neurological disease, ehlers danlos and I just wanted to say to those of you suffering from pain, whether physical or emotional, I love you, keep going. Life is f***g hard. Pain is demoralizing, and you’re not alone.”
In the past, Sia has suffered from depression, addictions to painkillers and alcohol (she’s been sober for 9 years), and in 2010 was diagnosed as having Graves’ disease.
Defining Ehlers-Danlos syndromes
Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) are a group of inherited connective tissue disorders caused by abnormalities in the structure, production, and/or processing of collagen. The new classification, from 2017, includes 13 subtypes of EDS. Although other forms of the condition may exist, they are extremely rare and are not well-characterized. The signs and symptoms of EDS vary by type and range from mildly loose joints to life-threatening complications. Features shared by many types include joint hypermobility and soft, velvety skin that is highly elastic (stretchy) and bruises easily.
The most common subtypes include:
Hypermobile EDS – characterized primarily by joint hypermobility affecting both large and small joints, which may lead to recurrent joint dislocations and subluxations (partial dislocation). In general, people with this type have soft, smooth, and velvety skin with easy bruising and chronic pain of the muscles and/or bones.
Classical EDS – associated with extremely elastic (stretchy), smooth skin that is fragile and bruises easily; wide, atrophic scars (flat or depressed scars); and joint hypermobility. Molluscoid pseudotumors (calcified hematomas over pressure points such as the elbow) and spheroids (fat-containing cysts on forearms and shins) are also frequently seen. Hypotonia and delayed motor development may occur.
Vascular EDS – characterized by thin, translucent skin that is extremely fragile and bruises easily. Arteries and certain organs such as the intestines and uterus are also fragile and prone to rupture. People with this type typically have short stature; thin scalp hair; and characteristic facial features including large eyes, a thin nose, and lobeless ears. Joint hypermobility is present, but generally confined to the small joints (fingers, toes). Other common features include club foot; tendon and/or muscle rupture; acrogeria (premature aging of the skin of the hands and feet); early onset varicose veins; pneumothorax (collapse of a lung); recession of the gums; and a decreased amount of fat under the skin.
Kyphoscoliosis EDS – associated with severe hypotonia at birth, delayed motor development, progressive scoliosis (present from birth), and scleral fragility. Affected people may also have easy bruising; fragile arteries that are prone to rupture; unusually small corneas; and osteopenia (low bone density). Other common features include a “marfanoid habitus” which is characterized by long, slender fingers (arachnodactyly); unusually long limbs; and a sunken chest (pectus excavatum) or protruding chest (pectus carinatum).
Arthrochalasia EDS – characterized by severe joint hypermobility and congenital hip dislocation. Other common features include fragile, elastic skin with easy bruising; hypotonia; kyphoscoliosis (kyphosis and scoliosis); and mild osteopenia.
Dermatosparaxis EDS – associated with extremely fragile skin leading to severe bruising and scarring; saggy, redundant skin, especially on the face; and hernias.
The combined prevalence of all types of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome appears to be at least 1 in 5,000 individuals worldwide. The hypermobile and classical forms are most common; the hypermobile type may affect as many as 1 in 5,000 to 20,000 people, while the classical type probably occurs in 1 in 20,000 to 40,000 people. Other forms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are rare, often with only a few cases or affected families described in the medical literature.
What causes EDS?
Mutations in at least 19 genes have been found to cause the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes. Mutations in the COL5A1 or COL5A2 gene, or rarely in the COL1A1 gene, can cause the classical type. Mutations in the TNXB gene cause the classical-like type and have been reported in a very small percentage of cases of the hypermobile type (although in most people with this type, the cause is unknown).
Some of the genes associated with the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes, including COL1A1, COL1A2, COL3A1, COL5A1, and COL5A2, provide instructions for making pieces of several different types of collagen. These pieces assemble to form mature collagen molecules that give structure and strength to connective tissues throughout the body. Other genes, including ADAMTS2, FKBP14, PLOD1, and TNXB, provide instructions for making proteins that process, fold, or interact with collagen. Mutations in any of these genes disrupt the production or processing of collagen, preventing these molecules from being assembled properly. These changes weaken connective tissues in the skin, bones, and other parts of the body, resulting in the characteristic features of the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes.
The inheritance pattern of the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes varies by type. The classical, vascular, arthrochalasia, and periodontal forms of the disorder, and likely the hypermobile type, have an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance. The classical-like, cardiac-valvular, dermatosparaxis, kyphoscoliotic, spondylodysplastic, and musculocontractural types of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as brittle cornea syndrome, are inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern.
How is EDS diagnosed?
A diagnosis of the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) is typically based on the presence of characteristic signs and symptoms. Depending on the subtype suspected, some of the following tests may be ordered to support the diagnosis:
- Collagen typing, performed on a skin biopsy, may aid in the diagnosis of vascular type, arthrochalasia type, and dermatosparaxis type. People with EDS often have abnormalities of certain types of collagen.
- Genetic testing is available for many subtypes of EDS; however, it is not an option for most families with the hypermobility type.
- Imaging studies such as CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, and angiography may be useful in identifying certain features of the condition.
- Urine tests to detect deficiencies in certain enzymes that are important for collagen formation may be helpful in diagnosing the kyphoscoliosis type.
How is EDS treated?
The treatment and management of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is focused on preventing serious complications and relieving signs and symptoms. The features of EDS vary by subtype, so management strategies differ slightly. Because several body systems may be affected, different medical specialists may need to be involved. The main aspects of management include cardiovascular work-up, physical therapy, pain management, and psychological follow-up as needed. Surgery is sometimes recommended for various reasons in people with EDS. However, depending on the type of EDS and severity, there may be an increased risk of various surgical complications such as wound healing problems, excessive bleeding, dissection, and hernias. Surgery for non-life threatening conditions particularly should be carefully considered.
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