“When you hear the sound of hooves, think horses, not zebras.”
In other words, look for the more common and usual, not the surprising diagnosis. Medical students have been taught this for decades.
In medicine, the term “zebra” is used in reference to a rare disease or condition. Doctors are taught to assume that the simplest explanation is usually correct to avoid patients being misdiagnosed with rare illnesses. Doctors learn to expect common conditions.
So the zebra became our symbol to mean, “Sometimes when you hear hoofbeats, it really is a zebra.” Ehlers-Danlos syndromes are unexpected because they’re rare. Hypermobile spectrum disorders are common, but are unexpected because they remain misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed.
When you see a zebra, you know it’s a zebra—but no two zebras have identical stripes just as no two people with an Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or HSD are identical. We have different symptoms, different types, different experiences—and we are all working towards a time when a medical professional immediately recognises someone with an Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or HSD.
This identity of a zebra has now been adopted across the world through social media to help bring our community together - a group of Zebras is called a dazzle.
“If opening your eyes, or getting out of bed, or holding a spoon, or combing your hair is the daunting Mount Everest you climb today, that is okay.” – Carmen Ambrosio