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Ankylosing Spondylitis in Adults

Arthritis is a disease that affects joints in your body. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that attacks the spine. The name comes from the Greek language. “Ankylosing” means stiffening of the joints. “Spondyl” refers to the spine, or vertebrae.

What causes Ankylosing spondylitis?

Healthcare providers don’t know exactly what causes AS. Genes may play a role. That’s because almost all cases of AS happen in people with a gene called HLA-B27. But only a small percentage of people with this gene actually get AS.

Young and old people can develop AS. But it’s more common in people ages 17 to 35. Men are more likely than women to have AS. You are also more likely to have it if someone else in your family had it.

Symptoms

Like other types of arthritis, AS causes pain and stiffness. The spine and other nearby joints, such as the hip, become inflamed. In serious cases, the disease may break down the joints. Bones may even fuse together.

Symptoms of AS may come and go. They often include:

  • Back pain, especially in the morning when waking up from sleep

  • Body aches, such as in the legs, shoulders, buttocks, or heels

  • Stiffness in the morning

  • Stooped posture to ease pain

  • Problems inhaling deeply if AS affects the joints between the ribs and the spine

  • Lack of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Anemia

Some people with AS also have skin rashes and stomach illnesses. They may have eye problems, too. These include pain, redness, and sensitivity to light. Severe cases of the disease may damage organs such as the heart and lungs. Osteoporosis happens in about 50% of AS patients. 

Diagnosing Ankylosing spondylitis

To diagnose AS, your healthcare provider will start with a physical exam. He or she will ask about your symptoms and medical history. X-rays of your spine and other joints may show joint damage. MRI testing (magnetic resonance imaging) may be done as well. Genetic testing can find out if you have the HLA-B27 gene.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend a lab test that checks for inflammation.  An erythrocyte sedimentation rate test measures how quickly red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube. If you have inflammation from arthritis, the red blood cells will clump together and fall faster.

Treating Ankylosing spondylitis

AS can’t be cured. But treatments can ease pain and stiffness. They can help you live a more active life. Your healthcare provider will choose the best treatment based on your overall health, the severity of your disease, and other factors.

Several types of medicine can reduce pain and inflammation. These medicines include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen or ibuprofen

  • Corticosteroids, which can be injected into affected joints and areas. 

  • Muscle relaxants

  • Biologic medicines

  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Alternative treatments may also be helpful. Speak with your healthcare provider about the potential benefits of acupuncture, massage, yoga, and TENS units (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation).

Quitting smoking may help. 

Your healthcare provider may also recommend surgery. For instance, you may need to have a joint replaced. Other procedures remove damaged bone or insert rods into the spine. 

Exercising regularly can help relieve your symptoms. Be sure to include activities that strengthen the back and increase flexibility and range of motion. Your healthcare provider may also suggest physical therapy. Maintaining proper posture is important, too.

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.