Did Elvis have EDS? – Practical Pain Management – Forest Tennant, MD, DrPH – April 2017
From Letters to the Editor:
After I finished reading the article about Elvis Presley’s medical history by Forest Tennant, MD, DrPH,1 I wondered if he might have had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS)?
The facts seem consistent with many of the medical issues common with this connective tissue mutation, including the stretched body parts, an inability to detox chemicals, self-medication, and an apparent need for greater pain relief.
I also found it interesting that Dr. Tennant wrote about Howard Hughes’ medical case.2 I suspect that Mr. Hughes also suffered from EDS. He was intelligent and inventive, which are common traits found in people with this disease. The fact that Mr. Hughes survived a plane crash and was able to invent the modern hospital bed while he healed from broken ribs is truly amazing!
—Sonja D. Long
Congratulations! You are the first person to contact me with the suspicion that Elvis Presley had EDS. His doctors not only did not suspect EDS, they never even considered it, as this genetic disease wasn’t regarded as a cause of severe pain and disability in Presley’s day.
However, his primary doctor, George Nichopoulos, MD, who personally opined to me that Presley probably had “some sort of genetic disease,” as he had multiple “strange,” seemingly unconnected medical problems.
In a retrospective review of the Presley case, I too suspect he had EDS.
The early age of onset of his multiple symptoms, pain patterns, pathologic conditions, and early death at age 39 are all compatible with a severe form of EDS.3
Beginning in his 20s, he experienced a wide variety of medical ailments, including respiratory, dental, headache, arthralgia, prostate, liver, spine, and gastrointestinal upsets.3,4 His medical symptoms involved various biologic systems and were migratory.
This type of come-and-go pattern is typical of EDS. In the last years of Presley’s life, he complained of pain all over.
There are other compelling reasons to believe Presley had EDS. He developed severe constipation and mega-colon in the last few years of his life, requiring medical treatment including enemas. Large intestine problems are relatively common in EDS patients.3,4
Some EDS patients develop a condition known as visceroptosis, which is a disconnection and prolapse of the bowel from its abdominal, connective tissue attachments.5 Presley may have had this condition.
His unusual and exaggerated physical gyrations on stage suggest hypermobility of multiple joints. Some photos show him on the stage, and almost touching his fans in the first row when he bent over. Movements on stage are hardly grist for a clinical diagnosis, but his physicality was a marvel to those of us who watched his live performances.
Also, Presley’s eye and vision problems were typical of EDS. Physically, his eye sockets were deep and he had lax eyelids, or ptosis. He developed bilateral glaucoma, which often necessitated wearing sunglasses.
As for Howard Hughes, he may well have had a variation of Marfan’s syndrome, which is often seen in EDS. He was tall and developed osteoporosis, scoliosis, collapsed vertebrae, and a hip fracture that required surgery. These conditions are common causes of pain in Marfan’s patients who live past middle age, as was the case with Hughes.
His physicians, as far as I know, never considered a genetic disease to explain his clinical state.
Presley and Hughes had something else in common. They both had multiple incidents of head trauma, leading to pituitary and autoimmune disorders as a result.
These problems, on top of a painful genetic disease, manifested in complex, multiple medical ailments that befuddled their doctors, as these pathologic, clinical states were as yet unknown.
Today, we are better able to analyze and diagnose these painful genetic conditions. It is amazing that both Presley and Hughes were so accomplished despite horrific illnesses, significant pain, and suffering.