This chronic inflammatory disease causes pain and inflammation of joints between the vertebrae of the spine and the sacroiliac joints (between the spine and pelvis). People who suffer from this condition will likely need to seek out treatment for pain. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause pain and swelling in other parts of the body, and is sometimes referred to as just spondylitis or rheumatoid spondylitis. Treatment is focused on pain management and lessening the symptoms. The condition affects more men than women and the typical onset usually happens between adolescence and when a person reaches his or her 40s.
Signs and symptoms in the early days of onset can include chronic pain and stiffness in lower back and hips, especially after sleeping and resting for long periods. This condition is progressive and over time, symptoms can improve, disappear altogether or worsen. The pain and stiffness can also spread to other joints. Pain can affect: joints in hips, knees, shoulders and feet; joints between the ribs and spine; the eyes; and where the tendons and ligaments attach to bone. Advanced stages of ankylosing spondylitis can cause a stiff spine, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, restricted expansion of the chest and eye and bowel inflammation.
There is no known cause of this condition but it’s thought that genetics may be part of the problem. People with certain genetic markers may be more susceptible to developing ankylosing spondylitis. As it progresses, the condition can become much more serious and cause the vertebrae to grow together. This can lead to stiffness and the formation of bony growths. Fusion can also stiffen the rib cage, which can restrict the lungs and inhibit their function. Symptoms and complications can vary from person to person. Ankylosing spondylitis can also make it difficult to walk, stand and breathe. People with this condition may also suffer from heart problems if inflammation affects the heart, and anemia.
Blood tests, X-Rays and other imaging tests can assist in the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. Diagnosis in the early days may be difficult, however, because signs and symptoms might mirror other conditions. Some people with the condition often assume at the beginning they are merely having back pain. Treatments for pain can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. Physical therapy may also have benefits, and surgery may be necessary in the case of severe joint damage.