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Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of chronic inflammation of the spine and the sacroiliac joints. The sacroiliac joints are located in the low back where the sacrum (the bone directly above the tailbone) meets the iliac bones (bones on either side of the upper buttocks). Chronic inflammation in these areas causes pain and stiffness in and around the spine. Over time, chronic spinal inflammation (spondylitis) can lead to a complete cementing together (fusion) of the vertebrae, a process referred to as ankylosis. Ankylosis leads to loss of mobility of the spine.
Ankylosing spondylitis is also a systemic disease, meaning it can affect other tissues throughout the body. Accordingly, it can cause inflammation in or injury to other joints away from the spine, as well as to other organs, such as the eyes, heart, lungs, and kidneys. Ankylosing spondylitis shares many features with several other arthritis conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, and arthritis associated with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Each of these arthritic conditions can cause disease and inflammation in the spine, other joints, eyes, skin, mouth, and various organs. In view of their similarities and tendency to cause inflammation of the spine, these conditions are collectively referred to as “spondyloarthropathies.” Ankylosing spondylitis is considered one of the many rheumatic diseases because it can cause symptoms involving muscles and joints…
What causes ankylosing spondylitis ?
The tendency to develop ankylosing spondylitis is believed to be genetically inherited, and the majority (nearly 90%) of patients with ankylosing spondylitis are born with the HLA-B27 gene. Blood tests have been developed to detect the HLA-B27 gene marker and have furthered our understanding of the relationship between HLA-B27 and ankylosing spondylitis. The HLA-B27 gene appears only to increase the tendency of developing ankylosing spondylitis, while some additional factor(s), perhaps environmental, are necessary for the disease to appear or become expressed. For example, while 7% of the United States population have the HLA-B27 gene, only 1% of the population actually have the disease ankylosing spondylitis…
What are the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis ?
The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are related to inflammation of the spine, joints, and other organs. Fatigue is a common symptom associated with active inflammation. Inflammation of the spine causes pain and stiffness in the low back, upper buttock area, neck, and the remainder of the spine. The onset of pain and stiffness is usually gradual and progressively worsens over months. Occasionally, the onset is rapid and intense. The symptoms of pain and stiffness are often worse in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity. The pain and stiffness are often eased by motion, heat, and a warm shower in the morning. Because ankylosing spondylitis often affects adolescents, the onset of low back pain is sometimes incorrectly attributed to athletic injuries in younger patients…
How is ankylosing spondylitis diagnosed ?
The diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis is based on evaluating the patient’s symptoms, a physical examination, X-ray findings, and blood tests. Stiffness, pain, and decreased range of motion of the spine are characteristic of the inflammatory back pain of ankylosing spondylitis. Symptoms include pain and morning stiffness of the spine and sacral areas with or without accompanying inflammation in other joints, tendons, and organs. Early symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can be very deceptive, as stiffness and pain in the low back can be seen in many other conditions. It can be particularly subtle in women, who tend to (though not always) have more mild spine involvement. Years can pass before the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis is even considered…
What are treatment options for ankylosing spondylitis ?
The treatment of ankylosing spondylitis involves the use of medications to reduce inflammation and/or suppress immunity to stop progression of the disease, physical therapy, and exercise. Medications decrease inflammation in the spine and other joints and organs. Physical therapy and exercise help improve posture, spine mobility, and lung capacity.
Aspirin and other nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to decrease pain and stiffness of the spine and other joints. Commonly used NSAIDs include indomethacin (Indocin), tolmetin (Tolectin), sulindac (Clinoril), naproxen (Naprosyn), and diclofenac (Voltaren). Their common side effects include stomach upset, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and even bleeding ulcers. These medicines are frequently taken with food in order to minimize side effects.
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