Besides back pain and stiffness, ankylosing spondylitis sufferers may also have neck pain or eye inflammation.
Ankylosing Spondylitis: An Overview
If you’ve been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), you may be wondering what that means. AS is a type of arthritis that usually affects the spine, causing inflammation between the vertebrae and joints in the pelvis. It’s a chronic disease that can’t be cured, but it can be treated through surgery or medication.
Although it affects people in different ways, there are certain symptoms that are usually associated with AS. These include:
- pain and/or stiffness in the lower back and buttocks
- gradual onset of symptoms, sometimes starting on one side
- pain that improves with exercise and worsens with rest
- fatigue and overall discomfort
Other Side Effects
There can be a number of other, less common side effects. Not everyone with AS will experience all of these.
Inflammation of one or both eyes is called iritis or uveitis. The result is usually red, painful, swollen eyes and blurred vision.
Inflammation may spread to the cartilage in the ribcage. Over time, the bones in the ribcage may fuse, making it difficult or painful to breathe.
In addition to pain in the lower back and buttocks, those with AS may experience pain and stiffness in the neck, hips, shoulders, and back of the heel. In rare cases, your knees, elbows, fingers, and toes also may be affected.
If your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and bowels become inflamed, you may experience stomach pain, diarrhea, and digestive problems. In some cases, you may develop ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Inflammation in the areas where jaw bones meet can cause serious pain and difficulty opening and closing the mouth. This could lead to problems with eating and drinking.
AS is a chronic, debilitating disease. This means it can get progressively worse. Serious complications can arise over time, especially if the disease is left untreated.
New bone can form between the vertebrae as the joints become damaged and then heal. This can cause the spine to fuse, making it more difficult to bend and twist. The fused spine will also begin to curve forward, resulting in a stooped posture. This fusing is called ankyloses.
People with AS may also experience thinning bones, which can lead to compression fractures. This is most common along the spine. In some cases, the spinal cord may become damaged.
Inflammation can sometimes spread to the aorta, the biggest artery. This can prevent the aorta from functioning normally, leading to heart problems.
Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, can be hard on the kidneys. Although these drugs can decrease inflammation, they may eventually cause the kidneys to work too hard, leading to kidney failure.
Neurological problems can develop in those who have had AS for a very long time. This is called cauda equina syndrome, and is caused by long-term scarring of the nerves at the base of the spine. Serious complications can arise, including:
- sexual problems
- urine retention
- leg pain
Check out this interactive video to see where symptoms may occur and how they can affect your body.
Talk to Your Doctor
It’s important to have regular — or at least yearly — check-ups with your rheumatologist. This will allow them to catch any possible complications early on, and address them before you have serious pain or other difficulties.