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Arthritis of Spine Often Not Diagnosed

Many sufferers endure long wait for confirmation of cause, survey says

FRIDAY, Nov. 22, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A new survey says many people who suffer from arthritis of the spine experience delayed diagnosis, putting them at increased risk for permanent spinal damage.

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) typically strikes people in their 20s. The disease can progress to the point where the spine fuses, making it difficult or impossible for a person with the disease to move the spine or neck.

The survey included more than 2,000 people with AS and was commissioned by the Spondylitis Association of America. It found that 61 percent of the people with AS have symptoms by the time they're 29, and that many have to see a number of doctors before they receive a correct diagnosis.

The survey found that 54 percent of the respondents weren't diagnosed with AS until at least five years after initial symptoms, and 30 percent said they had to wait more than 10 years before they were diagnosed with AS.

Almost a quarter of the respondents said they saw at least five health professionals during their efforts to get a diagnosis.

Two out of three of the people in the survey said that AS has forced them into a foward-stooping posture, and 55 percent said they have at least partial fusing of the spine.

About 60 percent said AS limits their ability to walk, get into a car, sleep and/or have a satisfying sex life, and 25 percent said AS forced them to change their job or career.

Early warning signs of AS include: gradual onset of lower back pain before age 35; early-morning spine stiffness; pain and stiffness that worsen with immobility; pain and stiffness that improve with physical activity; symptoms that last longer than three months.

Treatments for AS include stretching and strengthening exercises, deep breathing, attention to posture, and medicines to counter pain and stiffness.

More information

To learn more, go to the Spondylitis Association of America.

SOURCE: Spondylitis Association of America, news release, October 2002
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