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What is ankylosing spondylitis? Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention and treatment

Ankylosing spondylitis: Causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the spine and sacroiliac joints. This inflammatory condition can also affect other areas of the body, including the eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, and intestines.

Symptoms are often mild in the early stages but become more severe as the disease progresses.

The condition can also lead to irreversible damage, especially if it’s left untreated or unmanaged for long periods of time.

What is ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis can cause pain and stiffness in the lower back and buttocks, as well as fatigue.

The exact cause of ankylosing spondylitis is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

There is no cure for AS, but there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms. With proper treatment, most people with AS can lead relatively normal lives.

How do you know if you have it?

The condition causes the vertebrae in your spine to fuse together, which can lead to a hunched-over posture.

Symptoms include pain or stiffness in the lower back and buttocks, morning stiffness lasting more than one hour, fatigue, low fever with night sweats.

There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis; treatments include pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil), as well as physical therapy to relieve pain and help patients maintain their mobility.

Some people may need medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s own tissues.

A healthy lifestyle also plays a role in managing symptoms of AS. Eating healthy foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and leafy greens will help decrease inflammation.

Maintaining a normal weight is important because extra weight strains joints and places added stress on muscles.

Exercise is another key factor in maintaining health. Studies have shown that exercise not only decreases inflammation but also increases levels of dopamine — a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure — in the brain.

How can you prevent it from developing further?

There is no sure way to prevent ankylosing spondylitis from developing further. However, early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent or delay the progression of the disease.

As a result, it is important to see your doctor if you think you might have symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis.

Early diagnosis and treatment can be helpful in slowing down the progression of this condition. Other things that might be done to slow down or stop its progress include:

  • resting as much as possible;
  • taking anti-inflammatory medications;
  • staying active (walking, yoga);
  • maintaining a healthy weight;
  • avoiding smoking;
  • eating healthy foods (fresh fruits and vegetables) which will provide nutrients that are good for your body’s health;
  • using physical therapy exercises designed for this condition (such as swimming).

How are diagnoses made and what treatments are available?

The exact cause of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is unknown, but it’s thought to be related to an overactive immune system.

AS symptoms can vary from person to person, but often include pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips.

The diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is made based on a combination of symptoms, physical exam findings, and imaging tests. There are no specific blood or lab tests for ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Treatment may include medications such as NSAIDs or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), as well as rest, exercise, physiotherapy and braces. For severe cases, surgery may be required.

For some people with AS who have involvement of other organs outside the joints, treatment might also involve the treatment of methotrexate and/or biologics.

10 Tips to help manage ankylosing spondylitis symptoms:

If you have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), there are some things you can do to help manage your symptoms. Here are 10 tips:

  1. Get regular exercise. This can help reduce stiffness and pain.
  2. Take breaks throughout the day to rest and stretch.
  3. Use heat or cold therapy to help relieve pain.
  4. Try a technique called cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with stress and anxiety related to the condition.
  5. Join a support group for people living with AS who understand what you’re going through.
  6. Eat healthy foods that are high in vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, iron, and protein like dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, and dairy products because they will help keep your bones strong as well as maintain muscle mass that has deteriorated due to inflammation caused by AS.
  7. Talk to your doctor about medications that might be right for you.
  8. Speak with a physical therapist or other health care professional about how they recommend rehabilitating the joints of your spine and lower back if you haven’t already done so.
  9. Monitor yourself closely for any signs of respiratory problems such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or coughing.
  10. Exercise regularly even if it’s just walking around the block once a day. Move your body and stretch often to avoid stiffness.

Seek medical advice about treatment options including medication or surgery for those with severe pain or limited range of motion. Support groups can provide invaluable information on coping mechanisms, treatment options, and advances in research.

Coping with ankylosing spondylitis:

If you have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, it is important to understand the disease and what treatments are available.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine. The main symptom is pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips.

The cause of the disease is unknown, but it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms.

Medications include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and aspirin, or stronger medications like prednisone or methotrexate.

Patients may also receive spinal injections, epidural steroid injections or physical therapy. Other treatment options include surgery, bed rest and alternative therapies such as acupuncture.


Ankylosing spondylitis can cause severe pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips. If left untreated, it can lead to deformity of the spine. There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are treatments that can help relieve symptoms and prevent progression of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing serious complications.

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