What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a type of Arthritis that affects the spine. More specifically, it is an inflammatory disease that causes swelling between the vertebrae of the spine and can potentially cause the vertebrae to fuse together. Once this occurs, the spine becomes less flexible and can result in a hunched-forward posture. The inflammation can also occur in other various parts of the body – most commonly, the eyes. If the ribs are affected by this, it can also lead to difficulty with breathing deeply. Men are affected by Ankylosing Spondylitis more often and more severely than women. It often runs in families and although symptoms usually start to appear between the ages of 17 and 45, it can sometimes occur in children or much later in life.

What Are The Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The earliest symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis can include:

  • Frequent, dull pain and stiffness in the lower back that increases gradually. The pain eventually becomes persistent and is felt on both sides of the back.
  • Mild fever, loss of appetite and general bodily discomfort.
  • Eventually the stiffness and pain can spread up the spine and into the neck. The pain can spread to the ribs, shoulder blades, hips, thighs and heels as well.

What Causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The exact cause of AS is unknown. However, genetics do play a role in determining who is susceptible on contracting the disease. Most people who have AS also carry a gene that produces a protein – called HLA-B27 but this is not always the case and carrying the gene does not guarantee that you will have AS. In total, there are about five or six genes involved in susceptibility toward AS.

Should I See a Doctor for Ankylosing Spondylitis?

If you are experiencing symptoms of AS or have a history of AS in your family, it is recommended that you see a physician for diagnosis.

How is Ankylosing Spondylitis Diagnosed?

A physician that specializes in joint, muscle and bone disorders will conduct a thorough physical exam including x-rays, individual medical history, and a family history of AS.  Blood work will also be done in order to test for HLA-B27 before a diagnosis is made.

Treatment From a Healthcare Professional

There are plenty of options available to relieve the pain and stiffness caused by AS. Some options that might be effective include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – such as naproxen and indomethacin. to help relieve pain, stiffness and inflammation.
  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers might be prescribed which can also help with treating the pain, swelling and inflammation caused by AS.
  • Physical therapy can be very effective for pain relief, improved physical strength and improved flexibility.
  • Most people do not need surgery but it is an optional treatment for cases that involve severe pain, joint damage, or hip replacement.

Pain Management

  • Regular exercise can help with posture, flexibility and pain.
  • Applying heat to stiff joints and tight muscles can reduce pain, while applying cold compresses can help decrease swelling.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight is also important in successful treatment of AS.

Places to Get Help

Get excellent bone and joint treatment from the top doctors at OrthoArizona – Arizona Orthopaedic Associates. The Arthritis Foundation also  has offices in multiple states including Arizona, where people can find support groups, information, events and more.