Hypermobile EDS vs. Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders

Demystifying hypermobile EDS and hypermobility spectrum disorders. Understand the differences, symptoms, and management options.

Understanding Joint Hypermobility

Joint hypermobility refers to the ability of joints to move beyond their normal range of motion. Some individuals naturally have more flexibility in their joints, allowing them to perform movements that others may find challenging. However, excessive joint hypermobility can be associated with certain disorders and conditions. In this section, we will provide an overview of joint hypermobility and discuss the different types of joint hypermobility disorders.

Overview of Hypermobility

Joint hypermobility is a common condition that can be observed in various populations. It is characterized by joints that can move beyond the normal range of motion due to laxity in the connective tissues that support the joints. While some individuals with joint hypermobility may not experience any symptoms or complications, others may develop joint pain, instability, or other associated symptoms.

Types of Joint Hypermobility Disorders

Two primary disorders are often associated with joint hypermobility: Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD). These conditions fall under the umbrella term of joint hypermobility disorders.

  • Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS): Hypermobile EDS is a genetic disorder characterized by joint hypermobility, skin findings, and joint pains or recurrent dislocations. It is typically more severe than HSD and can sometimes lead to more serious issues affecting the eyes, blood vessels, or heart [1]. In 2017, the International Classification of the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes introduced the term "hypermobile EDS" to replace previous terms for symptomatic joint hypermobility. This classification aims to provide more accurate diagnosis and management for individuals with this condition.
  • Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD): HSD is a term used to describe individuals who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for hypermobile EDS but still exhibit joint hypermobility and related symptoms. It is a less severe condition compared to hypermobile EDS. HSD can also be associated with various extra-articular symptoms, including anxiety disorders, chronic pain, fatigue, orthostatic intolerance, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and pelvic and bladder dysfunction.

It is important to note that both hypermobile EDS and HSD can have significant impacts on an individual's quality of life. The associated symptoms and complications may require a multidisciplinary approach to management, involving medical professionals such as primary care physicians, physical and occupational therapists, and psychologists. Proper recognition, diagnosis, and patient education play a crucial role in the management of joint hypermobility disorders.

Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS)

Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) is considered to be the most common genetic connective tissue disorder, although its exact frequency is not definitively known. It can be inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern or occur due to a new mutation within a family. The genetic basis of hEDS is still unknown, and ongoing genetic studies aim to further clarify the etiology of various EDS variants.

Genetic Basis of hEDS

Unlike some other types of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), hEDS does not have a known genetic mutation to aid in diagnosis. The precise genetic factors underlying hEDS remain elusive, and research is ongoing to identify potential genetic markers associated with this condition. Molecular testing may be necessary in cases where the phenotype is uncertain or to confirm a definitive diagnosis, especially in the absence of a clear family history [4].

Clinical Features of hEDS

The clinical features of hEDS primarily revolve around joint hypermobility, skin findings, and joint pains or recurrent dislocations. Individuals with hEDS often exhibit an increased range of joint motion beyond what is considered normal [2]. While joint hypermobility is a characteristic feature, it is important to note that not all individuals with hypermobility have hEDS or vice versa. A comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional is necessary to distinguish hEDS from other conditions.

In addition to joint hypermobility, individuals with hEDS may also experience skin manifestations such as soft, velvety skin that is prone to easy bruising and slow wound healing. Joint pain and recurrent dislocations are common symptoms that can significantly impact daily life and functional abilities.

Understanding the genetic basis and clinical features of hEDS is essential for accurate diagnosis and proper management of this condition. A multidisciplinary approach involving medical professionals with expertise in connective tissue disorders can help individuals with hEDS effectively manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD)

Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD) and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) are two conditions that fall under the umbrella of joint hypermobility disorders. While they share some similarities, there are distinct differences between the two.

Differentiating HSD from hEDS

HSD is a term introduced in the 2017 International Classification of the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes to describe patients who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for hEDS. HSD is characterized by joint hypermobility without the presence of other significant connective tissue abnormalities. It is important to note that HSD is a clinical diagnosis made based on the presence of joint hypermobility and associated symptoms, while ruling out other connective tissue disorders.

On the other hand, hEDS is considered the most common genetic connective tissue disorder [3]. It can be inherited or occur due to a new mutation within a family. hEDS is characterized by generalized joint hypermobility along with other features, such as skin hyperextensibility, fragile tissues, and joint instability.

Associated Symptoms with HSD

Both HSD and hEDS may be associated with various extra-articular symptoms. These symptoms can include anxiety disorders, chronic pain, fatigue, orthostatic intolerance, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and pelvic and bladder dysfunction [2]. It's important to note that these symptoms can vary in severity and presentation among individuals with HSD.

Understanding the differences between HSD and hEDS is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate management. While hEDS is a specific genetic connective tissue disorder, HSD encompasses a broader range of individuals with joint hypermobility and associated symptoms. Primary care physicians play a key role in recognizing and diagnosing these conditions, as well as providing patient education and guiding individuals towards appropriate treatment options.

Diagnosis and Management

When it comes to the diagnosis and management of hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD), there are certain challenges that healthcare professionals and patients may encounter. However, with the right approach, proper diagnosis and effective management strategies can be achieved.

Diagnostic Challenges

Diagnosing hypermobile EDS and HSD can be challenging due to the absence of specific genetic tests for hEDS, the most common form of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Genetic tests can confirm the diagnosis in rarer forms of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, but for hEDS, clinical examination and evaluation of symptoms are the primary methods of diagnosis. A thorough physical examination, medical history assessment, and consideration of family history are crucial in making an accurate diagnosis.

Another diagnostic challenge is the overlap between hEDS and HSD. HSD refers to individuals who display joint hypermobility without meeting all the criteria for a diagnosis of hEDS. Differentiating between these two conditions requires careful evaluation by a healthcare professional with expertise in connective tissue disorders.

Treatment Approaches

The management of hypermobile EDS and HSD is aimed at alleviating symptoms, improving quality of life, and preventing complications. Treatment approaches may vary depending on the specific needs and symptoms of the individual patient. A multidisciplinary approach involving various healthcare professionals is often employed.

Physical and occupational therapy play a critical role in managing hypermobile EDS and HSD. These therapies focus on strengthening muscles, improving joint stability, and enhancing overall function. The goal is to minimize pain, enhance joint support, and improve daily functioning. Additionally, physical and occupational therapists can provide guidance on appropriate exercises and techniques for joint protection.

Psychological support is also an essential component of managing hypermobile EDS and HSD. Living with chronic pain and the challenges associated with these conditions can have a significant impact on mental well-being. Therapy and counseling can help individuals cope with the emotional aspects of their condition, develop effective strategies for self-care, and manage any associated anxiety or depression.

In addition to therapy, self-management techniques are often recommended to individuals with hypermobile EDS and HSD. These may include lifestyle modifications, such as maintaining a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and practicing good sleep hygiene. It is important for patients to work closely with their healthcare team to develop a personalized management plan that addresses their specific needs.

By taking a comprehensive approach that combines physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological support, and self-management techniques, individuals with hypermobile EDS and HSD can effectively manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Regular follow-ups with healthcare professionals specializing in connective tissue disorders are essential to monitor the progression of the condition and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Psychological Interventions

Living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) or Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD) can present various challenges, both physically and psychologically. Psychological interventions play an important role in supporting individuals with these conditions and managing their symptoms. Let's explore the psychological support available for EDS/HSD and the role of therapy in symptom management.

Psychological Support for EDS/HSD

Psychological support is crucial for individuals with EDS/HSD to address the emotional and psychological impact of living with chronic pain and other associated symptoms. While there is limited evidence in this area, some psychological interventions have shown promise in helping individuals cope with the challenges they face.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one such intervention that has been investigated for individuals with EDS/HSD. CBT aims to identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors, helping individuals develop healthier coping strategies. Additionally, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has also been explored, focusing on accepting difficult emotions and thoughts, and committing to values-based actions.

However, it's important to note that more research is needed in this area due to the limited sample sizes and poorly described interventions of existing studies [6]. Nevertheless, psychological support can provide a safe space for individuals to express their concerns, gain emotional support, and learn effective techniques to manage their symptoms.

Role of Therapy in Managing Symptoms

Therapy, including psychological interventions, can play a significant role in managing the symptoms associated with EDS/HSD. It can help individuals better understand their condition, develop effective coping strategies, and improve their overall well-being. Some of the potential benefits of therapy include:

  • Pain Management: Relaxation techniques and cognitive-behavioral strategies can assist individuals in managing chronic pain associated with EDS/HSD. Through therapy, individuals can learn techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness, which can help reduce pain intensity and improve daily functioning.
  • Stress Management: Living with EDS/HSD can be stressful, both physically and mentally. Therapy provides individuals with tools to manage stress, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and enhance resilience. By addressing stress levels, individuals may experience a reduction in symptoms and an improvement in their overall quality of life.
  • Emotional Support: Therapy offers a supportive environment where individuals can express their emotions, fears, and concerns related to their condition. The therapeutic relationship provides a space for validation and empathy, promoting emotional well-being and reducing feelings of isolation.

It's important for individuals with EDS/HSD to work closely with healthcare professionals, including therapists, who have experience in treating these conditions. By collaborating with a multidisciplinary team, individuals can receive comprehensive care that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of their condition.

In conclusion, psychological interventions and therapy can provide valuable support for individuals with EDS/HSD. Although more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy of specific interventions, therapies such as CBT and ACT have shown promise in targeting pain management, self-destructive behaviors, and related psychological issues. By incorporating psychological support into the overall management plan, individuals with EDS/HSD can enhance their well-being and improve their ability to cope with the challenges they face.

Lifestyle Recommendations

When it comes to managing hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD), certain lifestyle recommendations can play a crucial role in improving symptoms and maintaining overall well-being. In this section, we will discuss physical activities and exercises, as well as dietary and lifestyle suggestions for individuals with these conditions.

Physical Activities and Exercises

Engaging in physical activities that strengthen joints and improve stability can be beneficial for individuals with hypermobile EDS and HSD. Here are some activities that are often recommended:

  • Walking: Walking is a low-impact exercise that helps improve cardiovascular fitness and maintain overall joint health.
  • Bicycling: Cycling is a great way to strengthen leg muscles and improve joint stability while minimizing impact on the joints.
  • Water aerobics: Water-based exercises provide a low-impact environment, reducing stress on the joints while improving strength and flexibility.
  • Tai chi: This mind-body practice combines gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation to promote balance, flexibility, and relaxation.

Remember, it's important to listen to your body and work with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to determine the most suitable exercises for your specific condition. They can provide guidance on proper form and modifications to prevent injury.

Dietary and Lifestyle Suggestions

Alongside physical activities, making certain dietary and lifestyle choices can contribute to managing symptoms and preventing further complications. Here are some recommendations:

  • Maintain good posture: Practicing proper posture can help reduce strain on the joints and minimize discomfort. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine position, whether sitting or standing.
  • Get sufficient sleep: Aim for regular and adequate sleep to support overall health and allow your body to recover and repair.
  • Eat a healthy diet: A well-balanced diet rich in nutrients, such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can support overall health and provide essential nutrients for joint and tissue health.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can negatively affect joint health and contribute to inflammation. Moderation is key.
  • Avoid smoking and drug use: Smoking and drug use can impair tissue healing and overall health. Quitting smoking and avoiding illicit drugs can help reduce potential complications.
  • Utilize relaxation techniques: Incorporate relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or mindfulness, to manage pain and stress associated with hypermobile EDS and HSD.
  • Seek counseling or therapy: Psychological support, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or counseling, can assist in managing the emotional impact and stress related to these conditions.

Remember, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to discuss individual dietary and lifestyle needs based on your specific situation. They can provide personalized recommendations and guidance to support your overall well-being.

By incorporating these lifestyle recommendations into your daily routine, you can take proactive steps towards managing symptoms, improving joint stability, and enhancing your overall quality of life.


[1]: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0415/p481-s1.html

[2]: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0415/p481.html

[3]: https://www.ehlers-danlos.org/what-is-eds/information-on-eds/hypermobile-eds-and-hypermobility-spectrum-disorders/

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8469247/

[5]: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ehlers-danlos-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20362149

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10472575/