Ankylosing Spondylitis: What Is It, Who Gets It?

Ankylosing spondylitis is an arthritic condition affecting the joints that connect the spinal bones and those that hold the pelvis and spine together. It's an inflammatory disorder that causes pain, stiffness and, ultimately, the fusing together of the affected spinal bones.

Who gets ankylosing spondylitis?

Typically, the newly diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis sufferer is a young adult male, but it can also occur in children under the age of 10. Having a family history of the condition can predispose a person to it.

What are clues that you have ankylosing spondylitis?

The first sign of the disease is intermittent lower back pain. You may eventually be woken from sleep by back pain and find that your discomfort is worse at night, in the morning, or whenever you're not active. The disease can progress to affect the entire spine. Other, less common side effects, include fatigue, inflammation of the eye, pain in the hips, or the heels, and joint pain in the shoulders, knees, and ankles.

How can a doctor determine if I have ankylosing spondylitis?

There's no clear-cut diagnostic test that will give you an answer. However, certain blood tests can provide clues. Generally, people with ankylosing spondylitis will test negative for the rheumatoid factor antibody but positive for the gene HLA-B27. A doctor may also order x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs that may show evidence of disease-related damage.

Is there a cure for ankylosing spondylitis?

There is no cure for the condition; however, it often can be managed well. A first line of defense might be as simple as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. You might also need a corticosteroid or biologic agent to reduce inflammation and prevent further damage. A proper exercise regimen and perhaps physical therapy to maintain strength and mobility is necessary. If joint damage is extensive, surgery may be called for, although this is unusual.

Can I prevent ankylosing spondylitis?

Probably not, as it has a genetic basis and occurs for unknown reasons. However, if you smoke, quitting will probably improve your symptoms. Experts say that the disease can limit the movement of your rib cage, and smoking further restricts your ability to breathe.


National Institutes of Health

Arthritis Foundation