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1. You notice pain moving up your spine and increased stiffness.
One of the first symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis is lower back pain. That’s because the sacroiliac joint — the point where your spine attaches to your pelvis — is located at this base position. As the condition progresses, bone growths develop along your spine. This leads to even more stiffness, loss of flexibility, and possibly development of a bend at your neck.

2. Your eyesight is getting worse.
The reason for this goes back to your immune system. Researchers presume that the same immune system response that triggers ankylosing spondylitis also triggers uveitis.

3. You feel more tired and exhausted.
Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation, which makes your body work harder and use more energy than is normal. Cytokines, which are discharged by cells of your immune system, play a role in causing this tiredness.

4. You have a harder time opening and closing your mouth.
A sore, tender jaw isn’t something you should ignore, especially if you have ankylosing spondylitis. Studies show that about one-third of people with this disease develop a jaw condition called TMJ. With this condition, the hinge or joint that connects your upper and lower jaw stops working, making it harder to chew and sometimes causing a clicking sound.

5. Your chest starts to feel heavy or hurt.
If you were diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis a while ago, you may think that a new symptom is merely a sign of age, but that’s not always the case. A heavy or hurting chest, for instance, may be linked to your condition. Your rib cage and sternum can become inflamed and stiff. Also, cardiac diseases occur in about 2 to 10 percent of those with ankylosing spondylitis. Make an appointment with your doctor immediately if you start noticing any chest pain, as it may be a sign of a serious complication.

There you have it: 5 signs that it’s time to speak up and deal with the progression of your ankylosing spondylitis head on. Because while any disease progression can be worrisome, stopping it in its tracks can help with symptom management and improve your quality of life.

Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4956824/
http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0482-50042012000500009&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en
http://peds.stanford.edu/Rotations/red_team/pdfs/limb%20pain/Kelley-Tempromandibular%20Joint%20Pain.pdf
http://www.spondylitis.org/Fatigue
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4852774/

Ankylosing spondylitis: overview

If you’ve received a diagnosis of 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 managed with medication and, in rare instances, surgery.

Typical symptoms

Although AS affects people in different ways, certain symptoms are usually associated with it. These include:

  • pain or stiffness in your 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

Associated conditions

A number of less common conditions are associated with AS. Not everyone with AS will experience all of these.

Eye problems

Inflammation of one or both eyes is called iritis or uveitis. The result is usually red, painful, swollen eyes and blurred vision.

Breathing problems

Inflammation may spread to the joints and cartilage in your ribcage. Over time, the bones in your ribcage may fuse, making it difficult or painful to breathe.

Pain

In addition to pain in your lower back and buttocks, you may experience pain and stiffness in your neck, hips, shoulders, and back of your heel. In rare cases, your knees, elbows, fingers, and toes also may be affected.

Stomach and bowel problems

People with AS can experience inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and bowels either before the onset of joint symptoms or during the expression of this disease. This can result in stomach pain, diarrhea, and digestive problems. In some cases, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may develop.

Difficulty eating

Inflammation in the areas where your jawbones meet can cause serious pain and difficulty opening and closing your mouth. This could lead to problems with eating and drinking.

Possible complications

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.

Fused spine

New bone can form between your vertebrae as the joints become damaged and then heal. This can cause your 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 ankylosis.

Fractures

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.

Heart problems

Inflammation can sometimes spread to the aorta, the biggest artery in your body. This can prevent the aorta from functioning normally, leading to heart problems.

Neurological symptoms

Neurological problems can develop in people who have had AS for a very long time. This is due to cauda equina syndrome, which is caused by long-term scarring of the nerves at the base of the spine. Serious complications can arise, including:

  • incontinence
  • sexual problems
  • urine retention
  • leg pain
  • weakness

Check out this interactive video to see where symptoms may occur and how they can affect your body.

Quiz: Test your knowlegde on ankylosing spondylitis

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Ankylosing Spondylitis: Much More Than Back Pain

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis caused by inflammation of the joints.

Patients often begin experiencing painful symptoms in early adulthood, including aches and stiffness in the lower back and hips. These are often the worst after periods of inactivity or immediately after waking up.

Unlike typical back pain one might experience from injury or spending too many hours in a chair, ankylosing spondylitis can affect other joints, particularly joints in the spine at the lower back and pelvis. The hip and shoulder joints can also be affected as well.

The vertebrae in the back are of particular concern because, if left untreated, these joints can fuse together. This can cause a person to have a hunched over posture and may affect a person’s ability to breathe.

While many patients endure these painful symptoms for up to 10 years before receiving a proper diagnosis, those who work with their doctors to find proper treatment experience a much greater quality of life.

Experts agree that ankylosing spondylitis and other related diseases can run in families, so if you have relatives with a history of immune problems, you may be more likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis.

If you’re experiencing lasting pain for more than three months that feels worse in the morning and better with movement, you should talk to your doctor about ankylosing spondylitis as the potential cause of your symptoms.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms and whether you have a history of injuries in the affected joints. Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to get a better look at what’s causing your pain. You can also expect a simple blood test to check for signs of inflammation, as well as to rule out other potential illnesses.

Your family doctor may initially diagnose you with inflammatory back pain, and refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in medicine related to joints and autoimmune diseases. As ankylosing spondylitis is not associated with mechanical issues that occur with injury-related back pain, it cannot be simply remedied with surgery and requires other therapies.

While scientists continue to look for a cure for ankylosing spondylitis, there are many effective therapies that can relieve pain, improve dexterity, and delay advanced complications, such as joint damage.

Doctors often rely on drugs to reduce the painful and destructive joint inflammation with ankylosing spondylitis. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs, and TNF, or tumor necrosis factor, blockers. TNF blockers are part of class of medications called biologics that suppress aspects of the body’s inflammatory response and may slow the progression of ankylosing spondylitis.

Many patients also benefit from regular exercises with a physical therapist. Patients often find that stretching and rage-of-motion exercises, such as yoga or pilates, can help relieve pain, increase flexibility in joints, and improve physical strength.

Ankylosing spondylitis may be a lifelong condition, but it doesn’t have to be a life-limiting one.

Working closely with your doctor about latest treatments and making smart lifestyle choices can help keep painful symptoms at bay so you can live your life as you see fit.

To learn more about Ankylosing Spondylitis, take a look at the information we have here at Healthline or make an appointment with your doctor.