Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a group of genetic disorders that cause defects in the protein collagen. Collagen is a tough protein that gives structure to your connective tissue, skin, and many other tissues. It’s the most common protein in the human body.

EDS is thought to affect between 1 in 2,500 and 1 in 5,000 people. It’s divided into 13 subtypes according to its signs and symptoms.

Some studies suggest a potential link between EDS and immunodeficiency, although the connection is not certain. Immunodeficiency is a risk factor for shingles. Shingles is a condition that results from a reactivation of herpes zoster, the virus that causes chickenpox.

More research is needed to determine whether people with EDS develop shingles more often than people without EDS.

Keep reading to learn more about the potential connection between EDS and shingles and between EDS and other complications.

At this time, it’s not clear whether people with EDS develop shingles more often or at younger ages than people in the general population.

Shingles affects about 1 in 3 people and becomes more common with age. It’s caused by a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox, which is called herpes zoster. This virus can lie dormant in your nervous system for decades.

Some case studies suggest a potential link among hypermobile EDS, allergies, and immunodeficiency. Hypermobile EDS is often considered the least severe form of the condition. It’s characterized by joints that stretch farther than usual and hyperelastic skin.

It’s possible that current evidence is coincidental. More research is needed to understand whether there is really a link.

In a 2016 study, researchers examined the characteristics of periodontal EDS, a type of EDS that causes premature loss of teeth and joint hypermobility. Among 94 people in 17 families, 40% had recurrent infections, such as:

In theory, factors such as poor wound healing and blood vessel dysfunction in people with EDS may suppress immune function, which can lead to the reactivation of the herpes zoster virus.

The following groups of people with compromised immune function are known to develop shingles more frequently than the general population:

  • people with cancer, especially leukemia and lymphoma
  • people with HIV
  • people who have received bone marrow or solid organ transplants
  • people taking immunosuppressive medications such as chemotherapy or steroids

The severity of EDS varies from person to person and even among people with the same type of EDS. Here are some of the health complications some people with EDS experience.

Blood vessel or organ rupture

Blood vessel rupture and organ rupture are the two complications that most frequently lead to death in people with EDS.

Vascular and organ ruptures are most common in the vascular and kyphoscoliotic subtypes of EDS. Vascular rupture can occur anywhere but most often happens in the chest or abdomen. Organ rupture most often occurs in the:

  • uterus
  • sigmoid colon
  • spleen
  • liver

Complications during childbirth

Connective tissue abnormalities can increase the risk of complications during childbirth. For example, fragile skin can increase the risk of severe bleeding. Serious vaginal or perineal ruptures may also be more common.

Surgery complications

People with EDS are at an increased risk of complications during surgery as a result of factors such as fragile blood vessels and compromised wound healing.

Hypermobility problems

Hypermobile EDS is generally considered a mild form of the condition. People with hypermobile EDS can develop many musculoskeletal problems, such as:

  • hypermobile joints
  • frequent joint dislocations
  • degenerative joint disease
  • chronic pain

EDS has no cure, but a doctor can help you manage your symptoms and prevent complications. It’s important to visit your doctor regularly to monitor your symptoms and voice any concerns you have.

The life span of people with the hypermobile and classic subtypes of EDS is not usually affected by the condition, but some types of EDS — like the vascular and kyphoscoliotic subtypes — present additional challenges that require careful monitoring.

People with vascular EDS are likely to experience a major vascular complication by age 40.

Medical emergency

Sudden sharp pain in people with EDS or suspected EDS requires emergency medical attention. Call 911 or your local emergency number or go to the nearest emergency room if you have sudden sharp pain or sudden onset of shortness of breath, which is a symptom of a collapsed lung.

Here are some common questions people have about EDS.

Does EDS weaken your immune system?

Skin and blood vessel complications of EDS may predispose you to problems with wound healing. This may make you more likely to develop skin infections.

Does EDS cause rashes or other skin problems?

Most complications of EDS affect the skin, muscles, bones, and blood vessels. People with EDS often have skin described as velvety. Skin may be fragile, and wounds may heal slowly. Scars may be thin and discolored and may stretch over time.

Rashes are less common but can potentially be a symptom of some types of EDS.

Can EDS cause nerve damage?

Small nerve neuropathy, or damage to the small nerve fibers in your skin, is a common feature of EDS. It can cause tingling or burning in your feet or hands and reduced sensitivity to pain and heat.

What other conditions are associated with EDS?

Sleep disturbance and obstructive sleep apnea are associated with EDS. The association is thought to be caused by abnormalities in facial soft tissues. Repeated joint injuries can cause early-onset osteoarthritis and many other orthopedic conditions.

EDS is a group of conditions caused by defects in the protein collagen. It’s not clear whether people with EDS are at an increased risk of developing shingles. Some studies suggest that EDS can potentially weaken your immune system, which could theoretically make you more likely to develop shingles.

If you have EDS, it’s important to visit your doctor regularly to monitor your symptoms.