Ankylosing Spondylitis

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Also referred to as Bechterew’s disease, ankylosing spondylitis is characterized as an inflammatory disease. It causes some of the spine’s vertebrae to become fused together, making the back less flexible.

Men are affected more than women, and symptoms typically start in early adulthood.

What are the Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis can cause a person to have a posture that forces them to hunch forward. In the event that the ribs are affected, there could also be difficulty breathing deeply as well.

Symptoms include

Symptoms consistent of stiffness and pain within the hips, buttocks, and lower back lasting over three months, bony fusion that affects the hips, back, neck, or ribs, and pain within the tendons and ligaments, particularly under the heel or at the back of the ankle.

Since it is a systemic disorder, ankylosing spondylitis can also cause fatigue, a loss of appetite, and fever. Eye inflammation that results in pain and redness can also occur in patients who have ankylosing spondylitis. In rare instances, heart and lung problems might also develop.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Causes

It is not completely clear what causes ankylosing spondylitis (AS), but experts believe it is partly genetic. Many people who have the condition have a gene called HLA-B27. However, just because an individual has this genetic marker does not necessarily mean that they will definitely develop AS. In fact, the vast majority of people with the HLA-B27 gene do not have the condition.

Research is still being conducted into the causes of AS, and so far up to 30 genes have been identified which could play a role in the development of the disease. This demonstrates just how complex a process it is to identify the root cause of the condition.

How is Ankylosing Spondylitis Treated?

Even though there is no cure currently available for ankylosing spondylitis, treatments can be provided in order to reduce symptoms and decrease pain.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy and daily exercise can help maintain range of motion, flexibility, and overall mobility.

Medication

Medications that include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic prescriptions, and steroid injections can also be administered.

Surgery

Artificial joint replacement surgeries could also be an option for those suffering with joint disease that is advanced and affects the knees or hips.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Prevention

It is not clear if AS can be wholly prevented, but it might be possible to prevent the condition becoming worse in individuals who have already been diagnosed.

Firstly, it is important to follow any treatment plans prescribed by a doctor, and to remain as active as possible. Although pain might make exercise unappealing, regular activity will help to improve flexibility in the spine and joints and can, in the long term, help to reduce pain.

Good posture is also vital, as slouching can strain the spine and exacerbate symptoms. Sitting and standing straight is vital, and the use of ergonomic chairs and supportive mattresses might help individuals to maintain good posture when sitting and sleeping.

It is known that smoking cigarettes, doing very physically demanding jobs and having underlying health problems can make AS worse. For this reason, it is highly recommended that diagnosed individuals stop smoking as soon as possible and, where necessary, change careers to reduce physical strain on the body. Finally, other health conditions or worries should be investigated by a doctor urgently to reduce the risk of an individual becoming very ill and causing AS symptoms to worsen.

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Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
November 08, 2017