Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine and sacroiliac joints. It causes inflammation in the joints and surrounding tissue, leading to pain and stiffness. Over time, the inflammation can cause the bones in the spine to fuse, leading to a rigid, immobile spine. AS can also affect other joints, such as the hips, shoulders, and knees, as well as extra-articular manifestations such as uveitis.
AS is a chronic condition that typically develops in young adults, with onset usually between the ages of 17 and 35. It is more common in men than in women and is more prevalent in individuals who have certain genetic markers, specifically the HLA-B27 gene. However, having this gene does not guarantee that an individual will develop AS and not everyone with AS has the HLA-B27 gene.
The exact cause of AS is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies have found that people with a family history of AS are more likely to develop the condition, suggesting a genetic component. However, other factors, such as an infection or injury, may also play a role in the development of AS.
The global prevalence of AS is estimated to be around 0.5-1.5% of the general population. It is more common in certain populations, such as the white population, and in certain regions, such as Northern Europe and the United States.
AS is a chronic condition that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to help manage symptoms and prevent progression of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) affects the spine and sacroiliac joints, leading to inflammation, pain and stiffness. The signs and symptoms of AS can vary widely from person to person and may develop slowly over time. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of AS include:
- Back pain and stiffness: This is the most common symptom of AS and is often described as a dull, aching pain that is worse in the morning and improves with activity. The pain and stiffness may be located in the lower back, but can also affect the upper back and neck.
- Inflammation of the joints in the spine: AS causes inflammation in the joints of the spine, leading to stiffness and loss of mobility. Over time, the inflammation can cause the bones in the spine to fuse, leading to a rigid, immobile spine.
- Fatigue: People with AS may experience chronic fatigue as a symptom of the condition. This can be a result of the pain and stiffness or due to the underlying inflammation in the body.
- Loss of flexibility: AS can cause the spine to become stiff and rigid, leading to a loss of flexibility and mobility. This can make it difficult to perform daily activities, such as bending, reaching, and twisting.
- Other common symptoms: AS can also cause inflammation in other joints, such as the hips, shoulders, and knees. It can also cause extra-articular manifestations such as uveitis (eye inflammation) and heel pain.
Diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) can be challenging as the signs and symptoms can be similar to other conditions and may develop slowly over time. A combination of physical examination, imaging tests, and blood tests are typically used to diagnose AS.
Physical examination: A healthcare professional will perform a physical examination to assess the patient’s range of motion, flexibility, and any pain or tenderness in the spine and other joints.
Imaging tests: X-rays and MRI scans can be used to detect inflammation and changes in the bones and joints, such as fusion of the spine.
Blood tests: Blood tests can be used to detect certain genetic markers, such as the HLA-B27 gene, which is found in a majority of people with AS. However, having this gene does not confirm the diagnosis, and not everyone with AS has this gene.
In addition to these tests, the healthcare professional will take into account the patient’s medical history, symptoms, and any family history of AS. A diagnosis of AS may be made if the patient has persistent symptoms of back pain and stiffness, along with inflammation in the spine and other joints, and no other underlying condition that can explain these symptoms.
Treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis
The treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) aims to reduce inflammation, improve mobility, and alleviate pain. There is no cure for AS, but treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent progression of the disease. Treatment options for AS include:
- Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help reduce inflammation and pain. Biologic drugs, such as TNF inhibitors, target specific molecules that drive inflammation and can be effective in controlling symptoms for some patients.
- Physical therapy: Mobility, flexibility, and strength can all be strengthened by performing physical therapy in Edmonton.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help improve overall fitness, reduce pain and stiffness, and maintain mobility. Activities such as swimming, cycling, and yoga can be especially beneficial for people with AS.
- Assistive devices: A cane or a brace can help alleviate stress on the joints and provide support for people with AS.
- Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct spinal deformities or to fuse the joints in the spine.
Self-Management of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Self-management is an important aspect of living with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). Self-management techniques can help reduce symptoms, improve function, and enhance quality of life. Some self-management strategies for AS include:
- Maintaining a healthy diet: Eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health.
- Staying active: Regular exercise and physical activity can help improve mobility, flexibility, and strength. People with AS should consult with their healthcare professional or physical therapist to develop a safe and effective exercise plan.
- Getting enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for overall health and well-being. People with AS may experience pain and stiffness that can make it difficult to get comfortable and sleep well.
- Practicing good posture: Good posture can help alleviate stress on the joints and reduce pain and stiffness. A physical therapist can teach patients how to maintain good posture and how to adjust their posture throughout the day.
- Finding a support group: Joining a support group can be a helpful way for people with AS to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Support groups can provide emotional support, as well as practical advice and information.