What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Conditions

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine, often beginning in early adulthood. This progressive form of arthritis results from chronic inflammation and over time causes the vertebrae to fuse. This makes the spine less flexible and can lead to a “hunched” posture, and in some cases, can cause breathing difficulty if the ribs are affected.

There is currently no cure, but treatment can help with the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis and may even slow progression of the condition.

Back Pain Centers of America offers minimally invasive treatment for ankylosing spondylitis and related complications. Call 1.844.201.1308 and find out what we can do to help you get back to living without pain. Relief is just a call away!

Man suffering from ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis Causes and Risk Factors

There is no known cause of ankylosing spondylitis, but it is believed that genetics play a role, specifically a gene called HLA-B27. According to the Spondylitis Association of America, this gene is found in over 95 percent of Caucasians with the disease.

Factors that increase a person’s risk of developing ankylosing spondylitis include:

  • Gender – The disease affects more men than women.
  • Age – Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis generally develop in late adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Genetics – Though not everyone who as the HLA-B27 gene will develop ankylosing spondylitis, the majority of those with the condition do have the gene. A family history of the disease also increases your risk.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms

The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis vary from person to person. Early on, the most common ankylosing spondylitis symptoms are pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips and buttocks. For many, the pain affects one side at a time, alternating between both sides, and is usually worse in the mornings and overnight. These early symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis may also be accompanied by loss of appetite, low-grade fever and general discomfort similar to a mild flu. As the disease progresses, the pain becomes chronic, eventually affecting both sides.

Disease progression can also cause ankylosing spondylitis symptoms in other parts of the body as the damage spreads to other joints, including:

  • Sacroiliac joint, located at the base of your spine and pelvis
  • Lower back
  • Shoulder joints
  • Between the breastbone
  • Ribs
  • Heel of the foot

Ankylosing spondylitis can cause complications that affect your spine, bowel, eyes and even the heart, such as:

  • Uveitis – This causes eye pain, blurred vision and sensitivity to light that comes on quickly.
  • Compression fractures – Damage to the bones in the spine can lead to fractured vertebrae, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease – This can include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other types of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Heart problems – Inflammation of the aorta is a possible complication, which can impair the heart’s ability to function properly.
  • Breathing problems – In severe cases, calcification can cause bones of the spine to fuse and/or stiffening of the ribcage, which can restrict lung function and interfere with breathing.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Treatment Options

Treatment of ankylosing spondylitis consists of a combination of medication, physical therapy and self-management to control symptoms. Consult your physician to determine the best treatment for you.

Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – These types of medications are commonly given to help relieve inflammation, pain and stiffness.
  • Biologic medications – These types of drugs may be prescribed if NSAIDs don’t provide sufficient relief of symptoms. These can include a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker, which targets a protein that causes inflammation, or an interleukin 17 (IL-17) inhibitor, which helps your body fight infection and inflammation. There are currently five TNF blocker medications and one IL-17 inhibitor approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of ankylosing spondylitis. Ask your doctor if these are right for you.
  • Physical therapy – Special exercises can help with pain, stiffness and inflammation. A physical therapist can also teach you techniques for better posture, as well as work with you to come up with a regular exercise routine for better overall health.
  • Heat or cold packs – Applying heat or cold packs is something that can be done at home to help manage joint and muscle pain and stiffness.

Ankylosing spondylitis treatment may also include other medications to treat complications of the disease, such as gastrointestinal problems or eye inflammation. Also, working with a dietician or nutritionist familiar with arthritic diseases may be a part of your treatment for ankylosing spondylosis as certain foods can worsen inflammation while others can manage it.

In some cases, surgery may be required, though this is reserved for those with severe pain, fractured vertebrae, or severe joint damage and those who have been unable to get relief of symptoms from nonsurgical treatment.

Back Pain Centers of America offers several minimally invasive procedures to relieve the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis and related conditions. Call us at 1.844.201.1308 to be matched with one of our board-certified specialists and find out if you’re a candidate for one of these cutting-edge procedures that could have you feeling better in a matter of days.

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