Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is an autoimmune disease that causes arthritis of the spine and sacroiliac joints. It causes severe inflammation that leads to chronic pain and disability.
Chronic inflammation leads to the formation of new bone which will eventually fuse all of the vertebrae into one solid piece of bone.
Doctors call this a "Bamboo Spine" because of its appearance on x-rays.
One Solid Piece of Bone
Inflammation of the intervertebral discs and facet joints eventually causes new bone growth which eventually leads to fusion of all of the vertebrae into one solid piece of bone.
AS can also cause inflammation and crippling pain in other joints and areas of the body including the hips, shoulders, hands and feet.
What Causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Like so many of the autoimmune diseases, nobody really understands what causes AS.
There does seem to be a genetic component and scientists have identified a genetic marker (HLA-B27) that is present in 95% of Caucasian people with AS.
Not Well Understood
However, exactly what this means remains unclear. Many people without this marker still develop AS, and many people without this gene do develop AS.
Image thanks to Stevenfruitsmaak, via Wikimedia Commons
Researchers think there may be other genes involved that have not yet been identified. There may also be environmental factors such a bacterial infection of the intestines that initially trigger the inflammation.
Risk Factors for AS
•Having the genetic marker HLA-B27
•Family members with AS
•Frequent or chronic infections of the GI tract
The symptoms of AS are directly related to the chronic inflammation and they are very variable.
Symptoms May be Mild or Severe
Some people will only experience mild intermittent back pain, while others may experience back pain and stiffness that is severe and prevents normal activity.
Symptoms in other joints will consist of inflammation with pain and stiffness. The severity will also vary from mild and quite tolerable to severe and crippling pain and loss of motion.
Exercises to Maintain Your Posture
are very Important
Treatment for AS
Recent advances in the treatment of autoimmune diseases have brought forth some promising treatments for AS.
These new medications suppress inflammation and reduce symptoms by inhibiting TNF (tumor necrosing factor) which plays a role in the chain of events that produces inflammation.
These TNF inhibitors are medications such as Remicade and Humira.
Other medicinal treatments for AS include NSAIDs and Anti-Rheumatic Drugs. The NSAIDs include medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin.
Anti-Rheumatic preparations would include methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and corticosteroids.
All Medications can have Side Effects
TNF inhibitors can cause an increased frequency of infections, especially fungal infections and tuberculosis. Your doctor may require a TB test before you begin treatment with a TNF inhibitor.
NSAIDs can cause stomach problems that may range from mild stomach upset to bleeding and ulceration. They may also affect your blood pressure and kidneys.
Methotrexate and sulfasalazine may cause changes in your blood cell counts.
Corticosteroids can cause your body to retain fluid and gain weight. They may increase your blood pressure and cause thinning of your skin and easy bruising.
Not everyone is bothered by side effects from these medications.
These are just a few of the possibilities that may occur. It is always important to discuss possible side effects with your doctor who knows your medical history before beginning any new medication.
Postural Correction Exercises
Exercises, especially exercises to correct or improve your posture are important when your are living with AS.
Maintaining the best possible posture can help you to live a normal life and prevent crippling deformity.
Yes You Can Live Your Life
Being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis does not mean your life is over.
While you must not ignore your symptoms, and treatment is necessary, most people with AS are still able to live an active and happy life.