Understand Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing means stiff, and spondylitis means inflammation of the spine. These two words describe an inflammatory form of arthritis that causes pain and stiffness in the spinal joints and in the joints between the spine and hip, although other joints may be affected as well. The joints in the lower body are more commonly affected than the joints in the upper body.

Learning about ankylosing spondylitis and the symptoms you may experience, can help you talk to your doctor about treatment options that are right for you.

It affects young adults.

It is estimated that between 350,000 and 1 million Americans have ankylosing spondylitis. The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis typically begin to appear in young adulthood, though they can begin at any age. The condition affects three times as many males as females.

The body attacks itself.

Ankylosing spondylitis is an autoimmune disease. Normally, your immune system protects you from foreign substances like bacteria, viruses, and germs. While the exact cause is not known, when you have ankylosing spondylitis, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and cells in your body. This leads to the pain and stiffness common in ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis symptoms may include:

  • pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips, shoulders, ribs, and neck that gets worse with inactivity and better with a warm shower or light exercise

  • spine stiffness in the morning and during the night

  • pain and stiffness in other joints, including heels, knees, ankles, hands, and feet

  • symptoms lasting for at least 3 months

Everyone is different.

The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can vary from person to person. While some people may experience only occasional flares, others may experience extended periods of severe pain and stiffness that involve several joints.

A chronic disease.

Because ankylosing spondylitis is a progressive disease, the pain and stiffness can worsen. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to help control the progression of the disease. While there is no cure, there are medications that can help relieve the pain and stiffness.

See your doctor regularly.

It’s important to be open and honest with your doctor about your symptoms. Discussing which joints are being affected and how your symptoms have changed since your last visit can help you and your doctor decide on a treatment that can provide the relief you need.

Next: Treatment Options