An Overview of Ankylosing Spondylitis

November 12, 2012

An Overview of Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis, which mainly affects the spine although in some cases, other joints can also be affected. The vertebrae of the spine become inflamed, causing chronic pain and discomfort. In very advanced cases of ankylosing spondylitis, new bone formation can occur on the spine often creating a stooped posture for the sufferer. However, it is rare for the disease to advance to this level, which is known as kyphosis. Other joints that are less often affected by ankylosing spondylitis include the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels and joints in the hands and feet. Sometimes the eyes can also become involved and this goes by a separate name, Iritis or Uveitis. In very rare situations, the lungs and heart can also become involved. There is currently no cure available for ankylosing spondylitis but there are treatments aimed to relieve symptoms and provide some pain management. Research continues into new treatment and ultimately hopes to discover a cure. Studies have revealed that a new medicine is effective in slowing and even halting the disease in some people.

It is thought that genetics play a large role in causing ankylosing spondylitis and determining who is most likely to develop it. It has been found that most of the people who develop ankylosing spondylitis have a genetic marker. It is a protein, referred to as HLA-B27, which is present in a very large proportion of Caucasians. It is important to note though, that having this genetic marker does not mean you are going to develop the condition nor is it completely limited to people with HLA-B27. Most people with the marker will not develop ankylosing spondylitis. Scientists believe that there are other factors, which need to be present in order to trigger its development. These factors may be environmental, such as a bacteria infection or may be further genetic complications. It is thought that there are probably around 5 or 6 genes involved, which all play a part in varying each individuals susceptibility to ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis can occur in both men and women, although is more common in men. Oddly for a form of arthritis, individuals most commonly affected are between the ages of 17 and 45 but people of all ages can develop the condition. The severity of the symptoms can vary drastically from individual to individual. Ankylosing spondylitis will not progress as far as spinal fusion in everyone and many may only experience intermittent back pain. In the most extreme cases severe stiffness and pain will affect many joints in the body, becoming debilitating and finally disabling.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic and life long disease. If you think you are experiencing any symptoms, the most characterising of which are intermittent, acute, painful flares then make an appointment with your doctor. Even if you have a mild form of ankylosing spondylitis with manageable symptoms, it is important to visit the doctor annually to check for any progression of the disease or underlying complications that need to be treated.


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