Ankylosing spondylitis is a painful disease that can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. The key to living with the pain and discomfort of the disease is to have the condition promptly diagnosed. Treatment options allow individuals to manage the condition. The first step to finding relief is understanding more about ankylosing spondylitis and its prevalence.
What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that presents in the spinal column. The Spondylitis Association of America notes that many cases of AS can be tied to a genetic marker. However, many people who have the genetic marker that makes them more susceptible to the arthritic disease do not develop AS. A family history of AS is the most common indication that a person will develop the condition, and people who have gastrointestinal infections are also at risk.
Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis
WebMD notes that symptoms of AS often start as pain and stiffness in the lower back. The hips and buttocks can also be affected, and pain associated with the condition lasts at least three months.
Another sign of AS is a fusing in the bones of the hips, back or neck. Bone fusion occurs when bones grow together, and the result of this fusion is a limitation in a person’s ability to complete routine tasks. People with AS who experience bone fusion may suffer from a limited range of motion that makes it difficult for them to work or care for themselves.
Stiffness and inflammation in the tendons of the foot can result. Chronic pain occurs when a person suffers from inflammation, and walking or standing may become painful.
Pain and stiffness are not the only symptoms of AS. These are the symptoms that are caused by the arthritis that sets into the spine when a person develops the condition, but other symptoms can occur. These symptoms include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Inflammation in the bowel
- Eye inflammation
- Blurred vision
The disease eventually progresses to cause severe pain for sufferers. Managing this disease by seeking prompt treatment is essential to limit complications including spinal fusion.
Treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis
People who suffer from AS typically use a combination of physical therapy and medication to treat the condition. There is no cure for AS, but proactive treatment options can keep pain and stiffness under control. Physical therapy allows patients to maintain their ability to do routine activities.
Anti-inflammatory medications keep inflammation under control to limit pain, swelling and stiffness. Medications known as TNF inhibitors are drugs that can be used for both joint and spinal arthritis.
It is very important for sufferers to continue to be physically active. Exercise helps keep AS under control, and specific exercise routines allow patients to improve their posture and maintain flexibility despite the condition. Physical therapists who are experienced at working with patients with AS are able to create personalized routines. Good posture works to combat pain by reducing the severity of complications related to AS. Physical therapists often incorporate exercises that promote good posture into routines created for patients with AS.
People who have severe cases of AS may need surgery to help relieve pain and reduce the risk of complications. However, surgery for AS can be risky and is typically used only when other treatment options are not working to manage the condition.
Instances of Ankylosing Spondylitis
AS is an uncommon condition. While many people carry the genetic marker associated with AS, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that between 3.5 and 13 out of every 1,000 people living in the U.S. have the condition.
Researchers believe that AS is a condition that requires a combination of environmental and genetic favors in order to present itself. As stated above, people who have a genetic marker identified by a protein known as HLA-B27 are more susceptible to developing AS. However, these individuals often have family members who are also inflicted with the arthritic disease. Approximately 95 percent of Caucasian people have the genetic marker, but the rate of AS only ranges from about 0.1 to 0.5 percent of the population.
Environmental factors play a role in the development of the disease, and the most common group of people who develop AS are men who are in their early 20s. Rheumatologists can help patients manage the pain and stiffness associated with the condition to ensure that patients can continue to live a fulfilling life after being diagnosed with AS.