Ankylosing Spondylitis in Women vs. Men
Ankylosing Spondylitis and Your Gender
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a form of arthritis. It is considered an immune disease that affects your spine. Also called rheumatoid spondylitis, AS limits your range of motion and causes discomfort. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the condition is most prevalent in men, but women are not immune to the disease. Approaches in diagnosis and treatment can vary between genders because the symptoms and severity are not the same in men and women.
Causes and Primary Symptoms
AS occurs when the spinal disks (vertebrae) and the joints that connect the spine to the pelvis become inflamed. Over time, this swelling causes severe problems within the back. At first, you may experience chronic back pain or overall stiffness. As the spondylitis progresses, the pain can become debilitating and cause a reduced range of motion. Extreme fatigue is also a common symptom in both men and women.
Scientists are still studying AS, a disease that currently has no cure. Many medical professionals believe that rheumatoid spondylitis is genetic. In fact, your predisposition to the disease may boil down to the HLA-B27 gene. While having this gene can increase your risk for AS development, this doesn’t mean that all men and women with HLA-B27 will have this form of arthritis.
Arthritis is often considered a disease that comes about with age. With AS, however, the Spondylitis Association of America says that 26 is the average age in which patients develop the disease. Some patients are diagnosed as early as adolescence. The age of onset is about the same in both men and women. Given the fact that age and genetic risk factors are similar for AS in both genders, it’s important to learn how symptoms can differ between men and women.
Severity of Pain
While the primary symptoms of AS are similar between sexes, the NIH says they are usually more severe in male patients. This doesn’t mean that AS-related pain is exclusive to men. Since the progression is slower in women, female patients are more likely to have mild pain at first. In fact, women may mistake the pain for fibromyalgia at first and receive an incorrect diagnosis.
Aside from differences in the severity of pain, men and women may also experience pain in different parts of the body. The Spondylitis Association of America explains that men are most prone to pain in the spine and lower back. Women usually have pain located in the neck, hips, and knees. Such differences are yet another reason why men have an easier time obtaining an AS diagnosis.
Reproductive Health Concerns
Pain and decreased mobility are huge concerns with AS. Another potential concern is the fact that AS strikes men and women during their peak reproductive years. It can decrease sperm count in men, making it more difficult to conceive; this is a problem caused by certain AS medications, such as azulfidine. Women who are pregnant or are trying to conceive should also work with their doctors to obtain the right medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, often help relieve pain from AS, but they can harm fetuses.
Given the severe symptoms of AS, it’s no surprise that the disease can affect your mental health. According to the Spondylitis Association of America, 37 percent of all AS patients battle depression. At the same time, women are approximately twice as likely as men to have clinical depression. Male patients may acknowledge problems with depression more openly than females. Some women may inaccurately attribute mental health issues to hormones.
Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable, as of 2013. Early detection and treatment can help alleviate pain and related issues among both men and women. Understanding the differences in symptoms can help patients of both genders seek medical help in a more timely fashion. If you feel something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to see your doctor.
- Ankylosing Spondylitis. (n.d.). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ankylosingspondylitis.html
- Questions and Answers About Ankylosing Spondylitis. (2013, January). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Ankylosing_Spondylitis/default.asp
- Men’s Health. (2012). Spondylitis Association of America. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.spondylitis.org/patient_resources/men.aspx?PgSrch=men%27s+health
- Women’s Health. (2012). Spondylitis Association of America. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.spondylitis.org/patient_resources/women.aspx