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Ankylosing Spondylitis

What is ankylosing spondylitis?

Spondyloarthritis is the overall name for a family of inflammatory rheumatic diseases that can affect the spine, joints, ligaments and tendons. These diseases can cause pain and stiffness in the back and neck as well as pain and swelling of the joints and inflammation of the eyes, skin, lungs, and heart valves. The hallmark of ankylosing spondylitis is “sacroiliitis,” or inflammation of the sacroiliac (SI) joints, where the spine joins the pelvis.

What causes ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis belongs to a group of disorders called seronegative spondyloarthropathies. It is genetically inherited, with nearly 90% of people with ankylosing spondylitis are born with a gene known as the HLA-B27 gene. Ankylosing spondylitis symptoms include pain and stiffness from the neck down to the lower back. The vertebrae may grow or fuse together, resulting in a rigid spine, a condition known as “bamboo spine”. There is no way to prevent AS, early treatment by a rheumatologist can reduce pain, stiffness and loss of functionality.

Who gets ankylosing spondylitis?

Men are more likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis than are women. Ankylosing spondylitis usually begins between the ages of 15 and 30. Initial symptoms are typically chronic pain and stiffness in the middle part of the spine or the entire spine, often with pain referred to one or the other buttock or the back of the thigh from the sacroiliac joint. There is no cure for AS, but early treatment by a rheumatologist can reduce pain, maintain a good posture, prevent deformity, and preserve the ability to perform normal activities. In most cases, treatment involves a combination of medication, exercise, and self-help measures. In some cases, surgery may be used to repair some of the joint damage caused by the disease.

Fast Facts

  • Ankylosing spondylitis affects at least 1 in 200 adults.
  • Symptoms appear gradually, usually in the teen or young adult years.
  • About 40% of AS patients experience inflammation in the anterior chamber of the eye (uveitis), causing redness, eye pain, floaters and photophobia.