What is Ankylosing Spondylitis? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment (2022)

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine and other areas of the body. It causes inflammation in the spinal vertebrae or bones in the spine, which can lead to a loss of motion and increased back pain. Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory disease that primarily affects men. It primarily impacts vertebrae in the spine and pelvis and can cause these bones to fuse together. This condition can also affect other areas of the body, including the eyes, lungs, kidneys, and tendons.

It tends to develop gradually over time and has potential complications if left untreated. Ankylosing spondylitis is commonly mistaken for another form of arthritis called Reactive Arthritis. While both are types of spondyloarthropathy (a type of arthritis specific to individuals with certain genetic markers), they have notable differences in their signs, symptoms, risk factors and treatments.

What are the Causes of Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The exact cause of ankylosing spondylitis is unknown, but it is believed to be related to genetics, environmental factors, and a person’s immune system. Researchers have discovered that the HLA-B27 gene is present in almost all people with ankylosing spondylitis. This gene indicates a person’s susceptibility to developing the condition.

However, not all people with the gene will develop ankylosing spondylitis. Researchers have found that people with the gene must have certain environmental factors present as well. These factors can include recurrent bacterial or viral infections, stress, and changes in the weather.

Signs and Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis

The severity and duration of these symptoms will vary from person to person. Depending on the location of the inflammation, different signs and symptoms may develop, which may include: 

  • Pain and stiffness in the spine, lower back, and hips. 
  • Pain and stiffness in the shoulders and sacroiliac joints. 
  • Pain in the knees and ankles. 
  • Pain in the thoracic spine (upper back). 
  • Pain in the hands, wrists, and fingers. 
  • Pain in the feet and toes. 
  • Pain in the abdomen and groin. 
  • Numbness in the hands and feet. 
  • Changes in bowel movements and diarrhea. Bloody stool or blood in the stool. 
  • Bladder infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Dry eyes and eye irritation
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Changes in vision
  • Skin rashes

Treatments for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Early identification and treatment are crucial to prevent the progression of the disease and the potential complications of ankylosing spondylitis. The primary treatment is to manage the symptoms while offering relief to the patient.

Medications that may be prescribed include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications), steroids (to reduce inflammation), analgesics, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to slow the progression of the disease.

Other treatment options include iced whirlpool baths, exercise therapy, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and relaxation techniques. Surgical options such as spinal fusion may be an option for severe cases of ankylosing spondylitis.

Tips to Manage the Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis

1. Identify triggers for flares

Identify triggers for flares

Keep track of when and how your symptoms appear, and make a note of any potential triggers. This may help you identify what situations exacerbate your symptoms and help you develop a plan on how to manage them better. 

2. Stay hydrated

Stay hydrated

For mild to moderate pain, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You can also try using a cold compress on the area to ease pain and reduce inflammation. 

3. Get adequate sleep

Get adequate sleep

The best way to reduce the severity of your symptoms is to get plenty of rest. Make it a priority to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. 

4. Eat healthily

Eat healthily

Eating a healthy diet will help you stay hydrated and get the nutrients you need to reduce pain and other symptoms. Avoid food and drinks that can worsen your symptoms, such as caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. 

5. Exercise regularly

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise can help reduce pain and stiffness, improve your quality of sleep, and promote overall wellness. Start slow and work your way up to prevent injury. 

6. Stay mentally healthy

Stay mentally healthy

Stress and anxiety can exacerbate your symptoms and make managing them harder. Try meditating, using a journal, or attending therapy to help manage stress and stay healthier.

Conclusion: Preventions Ankylosing Spondylitis

While ankylosing spondylitis is painful, it can often be managed with treatment and lifestyle changes. Individuals should speak with their doctor to discuss treatment options, such as anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy, to reduce joint inflammation and promote better sleep. It is also important to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of rest in order to ease symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis and promote better health.


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