Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that mainly affects the spine, though it can affect the surrounding joints as well. As a result, it is sometimes referred to as spondylarthritis. It is characterized by pain, inflammation and stiffness in the vertebrae of the spine. In some people, the spine becomes curved as the disease progresses, causing a posture in which the person appears to be leaning forward. This complication is known as kyphosis.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a genetic condition that is passed down through families. It affects men two to three times more often than women, and it typically starts in the early 20s or teens. It also appears to affect people of some ethnicities more often than others. For example, certain Native American tribes are more likely to experience it, whereas African Americans develop it less often than other groups.
Though the disease primarily affects the spine, it also can cause pain and stiffness in other joints of the body, most often the ribs, hips and shoulders. However, the effects can radiate as far out as the hands and feet. In rare instances, even the heart, lungs or eyes can be affected as the disease progresses.
Treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Though ankylosing spondylitis is not a curable disease, it can be treated, and many who receive treatment are able to manage their pain, reduce symptoms and prevent complications. One critical part of treatment for almost anyone with ankylosing spondylitis is physical therapy. Typically, these treatments focus on the movement and flexibility of the spine to preserve its health as much as possible.
Medications are also often used in the treatment of ankylosing spondylitis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken orally to help with pain, or corticosteroid injections can be administered locally in more severe instances. Medications known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs and biologics can also directly treat the symptoms of the condition. Spinal surgery is rare but may be an option in severe situations.
SOURCES: Spondylitis Association of America; American College of Rheumatology.