What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a form of arthritis, is a chronic, inflammatory condition that most often surfaces in late adolescence or early adulthood. AS often affects the lower portion of the spine; however, other large joints (such as the hips, shoulders, and knees) may be involved as well. In severe cases, organs (such as the lungs, heart, eyes, and kidneys) are affected.
Symptoms of AS include mild to severe chronic pain and stiffness in the lower to middle back, the neck, and/or the buttocks. If AS affects other large joints, the symptoms include stiffness, pain, redness, warmth, and swelling in areas such as the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes, and back of heels. Fatigue is also a common symptom of AS. People with AS may have persistent symptoms or may have periods of relief when little-to-no symptoms are present.
Eventually, if left untreated, chronic inflammation between the vertebrae of the spine can cause the vertebrae to fuse together. The fusion of the bone causes a forward-stooped posture which leads to decreased mobility.
Advanced, severe AS can lead to medical issues of the lungs, kidneys, heart, and eyes. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, shortness of breath (due to stooped posture or heart involvement); eye irritation, pain, swelling, and redness (especially when looking at bright light); and dizziness.
Ankylosing Spondylitis is 2-3 times more common in males than in females. Researchers have linked a certain gene, HLA-B27, to the condition which proves it has a genetic component. However, although everyone with AS has the HLA-B27 gene, not everyone with the gene develops the condition. Therefore, environmental factors may play a role in the development of AS. Research continues as to why some people with the gene develop AS, and others with the gene do not.
Diagnostic testing is available for AS. Discuss your symptoms with your physician if you believe you are suffering with this condition. Your doctor can order blood tests, x-rays, an MRI, and perform a physical examination in order to provide you with a diagnosis. Unfortunately, many people suffer for years with AS before getting an accurate diagnosis as the symptoms of AS can mimic other conditions.
No known cure for Ankylosing Spondylitis exists today. However, there is hope. The sooner you are diagnosed the better, as treatments for managing the condition reduce inflammation and pain which aids in preventing complications from AS. Treatments include medications such as NSAIDs and Corticosteroids, exercise, and physical therapy.
For more severe cases, antirheumatic medications and TNF blockers are used. You and your doctor should discuss the different treatment options available for your specific needs.