• By Dana Sparks

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Diagnosed with stiff-person syndrome

April 14, 2019

Sharing Mayo Clinic stiff-person syndrome patient Dr. Tara Zier with her two children

For three years, Dr. Tara Zier went from specialist to specialist in the Washington, D.C. area trying to find out what was causing the unexplained symptoms she had been experiencing: shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty walking and excruciating back pain.

On her fourth visit to a local emergency department, the dentist from Bethesda, Maryland, remembers lying on a hospital bed crying. "My hips were stiff, and I was having a hard time walking," Tara says. "I had no idea what was going to happen. I was really scared."

Her symptoms began in January 2015 after a weeklong bout of pneumonia and three months after her former husband died. "I was devastated," she says. "The level of stress was way off the charts. It was nothing I could even describe."

Grief-stricken and trying hard to help her two children through their grief, the active 45-year-old started having difficulty exercising, and she experienced extreme fatigue. Despite taking kickboxing for years, she was getting short of breath during classes. She also experienced panic attacks regularly, which landed her in the emergency department several times.

"My kids were 12 and 14 at the time," she says. "I was worried they would lose me, too."

An anxious quest for answers

Tara's symptoms persisted, and the following year she started battling severe neck pain. "It felt like a deep spinal pain," Tara says. "I backed off from kickboxing and martial arts, but I was still short of breath and just didn't feel great."

Multiple MRIs and consults with several neurologists revealed Tara had spondylosis in her neck. She decided against surgery and instead sought relief through physical therapy and chiropractic visits. But her condition continued to deteriorate. Read the rest of Tara's story.
This article originally appeared on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.