About medical zebras

So, the ‘autistic’ part of this blog name should be fairly obvious, but what about the ‘zebra’? Though I’m quite fond of zebras, they are not my favourite animal. Yet I embrace the patterns and logo of the zebra. Why? Zebras are a symbol used by many with rare diseases. Some think they are the symbol for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but they are not exclusive to it. A medical zebra is simply anyone with any rare disease or condition.

Apparently, in medical school, there is a saying ‘if you hear hooves behind you, think horses not zebras’. Which simply means that as a doctor, you should look for the more obvious answers when trying to determine what is causing your patient’s symptoms. Not to be wasting time on the rare until you have ruled out the common.

But, obviously, some patients will have rare conditions. And they are the ones thought of as ‘zebras’. Doctors often fall into the trap of overlooking zebras as they concentrate on looking for horses. When I first mentioned my suspicions that I might have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome to a doctor, she actually burst out laughing and said ‘but that’s as rare as hen’s teeth.’ Indeed. But that doesn’t mean you will never encounter it.

There are some who say that those with EDS are not truly zebras. Because EDS is vastly underdiagnosed and so not truly rare. And I agree with that. But until the doctors catch up and the diagnostic criteria are updated, as they were for autism for example, then we will remain zebras. And if EDS turns out not to be rare after all, I may be looking for a new name for my blog!

[Image of a rectangle filled with black and white zebra print, with a faint watermark of diamond etching and the logo Canva]