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What Is Spondyloarthropathy?

Stephany Seipel
Stephany Seipel

Spondyloarthropathy, or ankylosing spondylitis, is a progressive inflammatory disease that damages the spinal column, joints, ligaments and tendons. It rarely causes death, but it can interfere with a patient's quality of life if it is severe enough. Physicians treat the condition with medication, surgery and exercise.

This condition is part of a family of disorders called spondyloarthritides. Several conditions in this family include reactive arthritis, or Reiter's syndrome; psoriatic arthritis; and enteropathic arthritis, among others. Patients who have any one of these disorders typically carry a gene called HLA-B27. About 8 percent of all Caucasians have this particular gene.

Patients with spondyloarthropathy may require hip replacement surgery.
Patients with spondyloarthropathy may require hip replacement surgery.

The early symptoms of spondyloarthropathy are characterized by stiffness and pain in the lower back. These symptoms are most noticeable first thing in the morning. The pain gradually spreads to include the neck and torso. Some patients also suffer from fever, weight loss and a lack of energy.

As the disease progresses, the bones in the spinal column might fuse together, which limits the patient's mobility. Some people also develop eye or skin problems. The symptoms rarely occur all at once but rather appear gradually over several years. They vary in severity depending on the patient.

The disease is most prevalent among Scandinavians, Eskimos and Caucasian males younger than age 45. Men who have a family history of spondyloarthropathy are at higher risk than other individuals. African-Americans are rarely affected.

This condition is sometimes misdiagnosed as arthritis because it has similar symptoms. Patients who have arthritis have rheumatoid factor antibodies, but patients who have ankylosing spondylitis do not. Doctors conduct blood tests to look for the presence or absence of these antibodies. The physician will also perform a physical examination and conduct other tests as needed to determine the diagnosis.

There was no cure for spondyloarthropathy as of 2011, and no treatments were available that could successfully halt the progression of the disease. Many patients who have this condition will eventually lose some of their mobility. Others might develop a hunched or stoop-shouldered appearance as the bones of the spine fuse together.

Medical specialists treat the condition with medications such as corticosteroids and alpha blockers. Some individuals require surgical procedures such as hip replacements or corrective spinal surgery. Patients also benefit from daily exercise or physical therapy.

Spondyloarthropathy is not a fatal disease, but the pain and stiffness might interfere with the patient's quality of life, depending upon the severity of the disorder. About 10 percent of patients who have suffered from ankylosing spondylitis for many years develop heart or lung problems. In rare instances, patients suffer from kidney dysfunction or renal failure.

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    • Patients with spondyloarthropathy may require hip replacement surgery.
      Patients with spondyloarthropathy may require hip replacement surgery.