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Someone examining someone's spine.

Ankylosing Spondylitis: Arthritis of the Spine

What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a rare form of arthritis. It causes inflammation and fused bones in the spine. Because of the fusing, it may also lead to an individual having a hunched appearance. In turn, this can lead to more severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing.

Surprisingly, this condition affects more men than women. It usually begins early in adulthood and slowly progresses. While there is not a cure, medication and treatment can help alleviate the signs and symptoms associated with it.

In this article, we take a look at the causes of ankylosing spondylitis, ankylosing spondylitis symptoms, treatment options and coping strategies.

What Causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?


The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is relatively unknown. However, experts suggest that genetics may play a role.

Interestingly, individuals who develop this condition have a genetic marker, which is a protein known as HLA-B27. Yet, others who also have this marker may never develop it. Most doctors and experts claim that while it isn’t an indicator of ankylosing spondylitis, individuals with this marker may be at a greater risk of developing it.

Other risk factors including your age and sex. As aforementioned, males are more likely to have this rare condition. It also typically begins during late adolescence or early adulthood. Further, a family history of this condition may also indicate a higher risk.

The Signs and Symptoms

The most noticeable early signs involve stiffness or pain in your lower back or hips. This pain or stiffness may increase after periods of inactivity or in the morning. Gradually, these symptoms may get worse, and include:

  • Forward curving of the spine
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Trouble breathing

The main problem with ankylosing spondylitis involves the complications that may occur because of it. The body tries to heal the problem by forming new bone, which causes fused vertebrae that may limit movement. Further, with a hunched posture, breathing may take more effort and pose various problems.

Other complications that may happen include:

  • Inflammation of the eye. This is common in individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. The eyes may become inflamed, causing pain. This can also cause blurred vision or sensitivity to light. If this happens, see an eye specialist or your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Fractures. This condition significantly weakens the vertebrae due to a stooped posture. As a result, vertebrae can become compressed and fracture easily. Since the spine protects the spinal cord, this can create even more health problems.
  • Heart issues. This inflammatory condition may also impact the aorta, causing it to become inflamed. This can press on the aortic valve disrupting normal function of the heart.

Treatment Options

Diagnosis frequently involves image testing to observe changes in the joints and bones. Once diagnosed, treatment immediately follows. This can prevent the condition from getting worse as well as relieve symptoms.

Medications

Types of medication for treating ankylosing spondylitis include:

  • NSAIDS. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, such as naproxen, are commonly used to treat ankylosing spondylitis symptoms. These can help alleviate pain, decrease swelling, and reduce stiffness. Yet, these often can't be used for long durations due to their impact on the gastrointestinal tract.
  • TNF blockers. These medications block proteins that cause inflammation in the body. In turn, this can help reduce pain, stiffness, inflammation, and function. Examples of TNF blockers include Adalimumab, Certolizumab pegol, and Etanercept.

Exercise

Since inactivity aggravates this condition, exercise can help combat the symptoms. It further supports proper posture and movement, preventing hunching. It can also improve your pain levels.

Physical Therapy

Exercise and physical therapy go hand-in-hand. A physical therapist can teach you how to keep good posture and stretch. They can also use manual therapy to help reduce your pain and improve your function.

Surgery

If there has been severe joint or tissue damage, in rare cases, your doctor may advise on surgery. For example, this may be an option if the hip joint has to be replaced due to deterioration.

Lifestyle Changes

As mentioned above, movement helps. Staying active has the potential to slow down the progress of your condition. Heat and cold application can also help manage symptoms, and reduce pain and inflammation. Quitting smoking, if you’re a smoker, can also help improve overall health and blood flow. Managing stress is also important for overall well-being.

Dealing with an Ankylosing Spondylitis Diagnosis

Getting a diagnosis is not something anyone wants to hear. However, if you have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, aim to make lifestyle adjustments where necessary. Focus on correcting your posture and managing your stress.

Further, finding a therapist or a support group to talk about it with may significantly help decrease your stress and your ability to cope with the diagnosis and condition itself. In fact, many individuals lead happy and productive lives, even with ankylosing spondylitis.

Taking care of yourself is step one. This diagnosis is not life ending, nor does it have to be. Take one day at a time and do the best you can.

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