Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that affects the spine. Ankylosing means stiff or rigid, spondyl means spine, and litis refers to inflammation.
The disease is caused by inflammation of the spine and large joints, resulting in stiffness and pain. The disease can be executed in erosion at the joint between the spine and the hip bone. This is called the sacroiliac joint.
It can also cause bony bridges to form between vertebrae in the spine, fusing those bones. Bones in the chest may also fuse.
Who is at risk for ankylosing spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis is more common among people who ages 17 to 35. It can also occur in children and adults as well. The disease affects more young men than women. It tends to run in families.
How is ankylosing spondylitis diagnosed?
The process starts with a medical history and a physical exam. Tests may also be done, like:
- X-ray - This test uses a small amount of radiation to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate) - This test looks at how quickly red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube. When swelling and inflammation are present, the blood's proteins clump together and become heavier than normal. They fall and settle faster at the bottom of the test tube. The faster the blood cells fall, the more severe the inflammation. Up to 70 percent of people with ankylosing spondylitis have a high ESR.
- Genetic testing - Genetic testing is done to find if a person carries a copy of an altered gene for a disease.
What are the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis?
Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis tend to go away and come back with periods of time. Symptoms of the disease can occur a bit differently in each person. The symptoms may include:
- Back pain, usually most severe at night during rest
- Early morning stiffness
- Stooped posture in response to back pain (bending forward tends to relieve the pain)
- Straight and stiff spine
- Unable to take a deep breath, if the joints between the ribs and spine are affected
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Mild eye inflammation
- Organ rupture, like to the heart, lungs, and eyes
- Skin rashes
- Gastrointestinal illness (such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis)
The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can be like other health conditions. Make sure to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
How is Ankylosing Spondylitis treated?
Treatment will further depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and stiffness, prevent deformities, and maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible. Treatment may include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications , to reduce pain and inflammation
- Tumor-necrosis-factor blockers (biologic medications), to reduce inflammation and swelling
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as sulfasalazine, to decrease inflammation and control AS
- Short-term use of corticosteroids, to reduce inflammation
- Short-term use of muscle relaxants and pain relievers, to relieve severe pain and muscle spasms
- Surgery should be done to replace a joint, place rods in the spine, or remove parts of the thickened and hardened bone
- Maintaining of proper posture
- Regular exercise, including exercises that strengthen back muscles
Talk with your doctor about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medications.