What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a set of rare inherited conditions that affect connective tissues which provide support in skin, organs, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and bones. Also referred to as Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (HEDS) this disorder is caused due to defects in the protein collagen.
People with Ehler-Danlos Syndrome have loose and unstable joints that dislocate easily and their skin is stretchy, fragile, and bruises with minimal effort. Their wounds heal slowly and they experience extreme tiredness and overall musculoskeletal pain. The causes of EDS are unknown and it’s more regarded as an inherited disease rather than a disease you develop with time. There is no specific treatment for this disorder but it’s possible to manage the symptoms.
What is Costochondritis?
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage connecting the rib cage to the sternum. It causes chest pain that can range from mild to severe. The pain from costochondritis might seem similar to heart problems, but it’s not related. It usually resolves on its own, and there are a variety of treatments for costochondritis available.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Costochondritis
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and costochondritis are closely related as both of these issues stem from weak and painful joints. Many people who suffer from HEDS also report pain in their chest area which is often confused with heart problems. It is quite common that people who have HEDS also have costochondritis because of how these conditions go hand-in-hand.
Costochondritis along with erythromelalgia, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, and Raynaud’s disease was more common to appear in people who were experiencing Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome than in the general population of the US. Both costochondritis and HEDS patients can suffer from similar symptoms such as musculoskeletal pain, weak joints, and overall fatigue.
Back pain and arthralgia (joint aches) are overlapping complaints from patients struggling between HEDS and Costochondritis. Further imaging studies also showed inflammation to be common between both conditions. While many conditions such as costochondritis are associated with HEDS, the underlying mechanisms between as to why these happen and how a genetic problem due to HEDS can cause these conditions are still unknown.
Is there a link between HEDS and Costochondritis?
It is estimated that 1 in 5000 people have a form of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. There are a number of anecdotal accounts of people experiencing HEDS as well as costochondritis.
In one article published by the Texas Medical Center, a woman named Sarah describes experiencing both conditions. Sarah was an active athlete and participated in many activities during her youth but now she hesitates to pick up even small weights. She described living with HEDS as like:
“Imagine building a house out of rotting wood, rusty nails, and less dense concrete; this is what it is like to have a body with EDS”
Sarah goes on to describe how HEDS has affected her whole body and devastated her energy levels, taking over 39 pills per day for her conditions. She describes commonly experiencing pain in her hips, neck, hands, and chest/ribs (costochondritis). She also describes a family history of HEDS, with various family members being subsequently diagnosed after her initial diagnosis.
In another online story shared on Inspire.com, a mother, Suespa, shared information about her daughter’s condition, who also had EDS and costochondritis, shared:
“She has had this now for 5 months and the pain is now constant and interferes with school, sleep and other activities. We have tried ibuprofen (but she gets sick in a lot of meds), rest, warm compresses and hypnotherapy (which had a great effect but only lasted a few hours).”
Many other users on the aforementioned Inspire.com posted comments in response, indicating their similar experiences with Ehlers-Danlos and costochondritis. It would certainly appear that there is a link between Ehlers-Danlos and costochondritis, based on so many experiences – and it makes sense. HEDS affects the joints, making them weak, loose, and painful to move. The line of thinking, similar to proponents of the Backpod, is that costochondritis involves the costovertebral joints in the back where the ribs are connected to the spine. As these joints are affected by HEDS, they may cause costochondritis. Several commenters on the Inspire.com post mention additional problems with slipped ribs.
While there are many anecdotal accounts around the internet of people experiencing both costochondritis and HEDS, there is no definitive scientific link between the two conditions and little research has been done in this area. However, given that HEDS affects the joints and cartilage throughout the body, and costochondritis is caused by an inflammation of the cartilage, it would certainly not be surprising to find that these two conditions are related. Though costochondritis pain and symptoms are limited to the chest, the treatments for costochondritis and HEDS are actually quite similar.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of costochondritis and experiencing problems with loose joints, fatigue, or other musculoskeletal pain in your body, it may make sense to visit your doctor and ask about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.