What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2018
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Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes inflammation of the joints between vertebrae of the spine and joints between the spine and pelvis. The disease may also cause inflammation in other body parts. Some inflamed areas may include the place where tendons and ligaments connect to bones, the joints between the spine and ribs, and joints in the hips, shoulders, knees, and feet. It commonly causes inflammation in the eyes as well.

While the ankylosing spondylitis worsens and inflammation progresses, new bones form as the body's way of attempting to heal. As a result, the body's vertebrae fuse. This forms syndesmophytes, or bony outgrowths; vertebrae stiffen and lose flexibility. This fusion may stiffen the rib cage, limiting lung function and contributing to other complications.

Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are varied and change over time. Early signs of the disease include pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips. The pain is often worse in the morning, at night, or following long periods of inactivity. Pain eventually progresses to the spine and other joints.

Advanced stages of this chronic disease include limited chest expansion, a severely stooped posture, a stiff spine, fatigue, lack of appetite, weight loss, eye inflammation, and bowel inflammation. There is no known cause of ankylosing spondylitis, but genetic factors play a role in the onset of the disease. This severe form of arthritis generally targets males between the ages of 16 and 40.


Complications resulting from the disease can include difficulty with standing and walking. This is because when the bones of the rib cage fuse, the ribs cannot move when a person breathes. As a result, the lungs fail to fully inflate. Other complications include heart problems and lung infections.

If a person suspects that he may have ankylosing spondylitis, he should contact his doctor. A physician can conduct a series of tests that feature x-rays, CT scans, MRI, or blood tests in order to determine if a person has the disease. Once a person is diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a physician specializing in the condition will prescribe several treatments.

Treatments are designed to delay or prevent complications and spine deformities as a result of the inflammatory disease. It is best to begin receiving treatment in the early stages of ankylosing spondylitis before bones have the opportunity to fuse, thereby limiting mobility. Typical treatments provided to a patient include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medicines relieve inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Other medications are disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), treatments used to attack inflammation of the joints in the legs, arms and tissues.

DMARDs have the ability to limit joint damage. Corticosteroids suppress inflammation and joint damage in severe cases. They are taken orally for a short period of time and may even be injected into a painful joint when necessary.

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers is another type of treatment favored by doctors to treat the disease. A TNF is a cell protein that acts as an inflammatory agent. TNF blockers block this protein and help lessen pain, stiffness, and swollen joints.

Finally, doctors may prescribe physical therapy to their patients. Physical therapy sessions may help to relieve pain and improve strength and flexibility within the body. Severe joint damage and pain may require surgery, although this is a rare occurrence.



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