Saturday, March 1, 2014

Zebras DO Exist!

Today's THE day. The day of each year where I become even more loud mouthed than usual. Rare Disease Awareness Day. 

Not-so-Fun Facts, courtesy of The Global Genes Project:
- 1 in 10 Americans, on average, have a rare disease
- 80% of all rare disease are caused by genetics
- 95% of all rare diseases have not a single FDA approved medication
- 50% of those affected by rare diseases are children
- of those children, 30% do not live to see their 5th birthday
- approximately 50% of all rare disease have NO disease specific group supporting patients or research

It's a grim picture, all told, for those who suffer from a rare disease. Many don't even have a diagnosis, or suffer unnecessarily for years due to a lack of a diagnosis, due to current practices. I spent 6 years without a diagnosis for one of my rare diseases (RSD/CRPS) and 7 years without a diagnosis for the genetic skeletal disease I have (MFD). With proper diagnoses, I likely would have had fewer surgeries and a much easier journey. Yet, most doctors feel no need to ever look beyond the most obvious answers.

In fact, in medical school, they teach new doctors a phrase: "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras." The gist is that when you see a set of symptoms, you should always assume the most common answer is the right one. The problem with the No Zebras mindset is that if you don't fit into a tidy box with perfect test results or a common diagnostic criteria list, you're not going to get help. Too many people suffer for years, even decades, because no one will look outside and see that one of those horses has stripes. 

When you find that one doctor willing to look past all the horses and see the lone zebra standing there, hold on tight. They might be your only hope for decades more to come. 

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