What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
The first response to a diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is usually, “What in the world is that?” Although it’s strange sounding, there are more than 200,000 US cases per year. Unlike typical back pain which is caused by some type of trauma to the spine, AS is a chronic condition caused by inflammation of the vertebrae.
The inflammatory arthritis affects the spine and large joints making it a form of spinal arthritis. In advanced and more severe cases, abnormal bone growth in the spine may cause the joints to fuse together resulting in an inflexible spine reducing mobility. The good news is that it can be treated by a medical professional.
The condition usually begins in early adulthood, in the late teens, and has been more prevalent in men, but women are susceptible to it just the same. However, AS can still develop at any age. It’s been known to be an inherited disease although not everyone with the gene will ever develop it.
Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Symptoms always include pain and stiffness from the neck down to the lower back. Spondylitis often starts at the sacrum (the lowest part of the spine). Pain in the back and joints are also common along with intermittent flare-ups of spinal pain. It could be mild or severe, and eventually lead to a hunched over posture. Unfortunately, the disease can also affect other ligaments and tendons, as well as the eyes and intestines. Some patients experience vision problems, and inflammation in the knees, ankles, and beneath the heel. Fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite may also occur.
Typical warning signs of the disease are:
- Unexplained lower back pain for no apparent reason
- Unexplained tightness in the chest, pain in heel, and joints
- Pain comes and goes, but significantly is getting worse up the spine
- Temporary relief from over-the-counter medications
- Family history of AS
Treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Nonetheless, early intervention and treatment can help control pain and stiffness and may reduce or prevent deformity. A physician cannot give a single test to diagnose AS, but an extremely detailed exam and patient history will help determine the diagnosis. The physician may also order imaging tests such as an MRI, or x-ray. Treatment includes medication, physical therapy, and in rare cases surgery. Remember, it’s always important to not ignore symptoms. Make an appointment to see a physician as soon as any signs exist.
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