What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory disease and form of arthritis that involves the spine. AS causes ongoing inflammation of soft tissues around the spinal bones (vertebrae). Over time, the process of spinal inflammation may lead to fusion of part of the spine and sometimes the pelvis, which can cause loss of movement of the spine.

Symptoms and signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis

Early signs and symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis might include pain and stiffness in your lower back and hips, especially when you get up in the morning or if you have been inactive for some time. Neck pain and fatigue (feeling tired) are also common. Inflammation can also affect other parts of your body for example, your eyes. Ankylosing Spondylitis symptoms can range in severity from mild to severe, and they can vary from person to person. It’s important to recognise the symptoms and to get a proper diagnosis and treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis. Symptoms can include:

  • Gradual progression of lower back pain before age 40
  • Pain at night, which improves when you get up in the morning
  • Pain and stiffness that get worse with inactivity and better with physical activity
  • Back pain lasting longer than 3 months.

What causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The exact cause of Ankylosing Spondylitis is unknown, but genetic factors seem to be involved. There is a gene called HLA-B27 and people who have this gene have an increased risk of developing the condition. Other risk factors include:

  • Gender. Men are more likely to develop Ankylosing Spondylitis than women
  • Age. Ankylosing Spondylitis usually between the ages of 15 and 35. It is rare for people older than 40 to develop it
  • Genetics. Most people who have Ankylosing Spondylitis have the HLA-B27 gene, but many people with this gene don’t develop Ankylosing Spondylitis.

How do rheumatologists diagnose Ankylosing Spondylitis?

To get a proper diagnosis, it’s important to speak to a rheumatologist who specialises in diagnosing and managing conditions like Ankylosing Spondylitis.

Rheumatologists use a variety of measures and tools such as:

  • X-rays
  • Review of symptoms
  • Physical exam and medical history
  • Blood tests.