Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that mostly targets the spine, but it can affect other joints, too.

While this is mainly a disease of pain and discomfort, in rare cases, ankylosing spondylitis can cause inflammation in the heart and lungs. This can result in more serious complications.

Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis and their severity can vary from person to person. People with a mild form of the disease often do not have an increased risk of death. However, those with severe forms can experience more serious complications.

Keep reading to learn about the overall life expectancy of people with ankylosing spondylitis.

Although ankylosing spondylitis mostly affects the spine, the stiffness and inflammation it causes in that location can also extend to joints, nerves, and the areas where ligaments and tendons attach to the bone. These symptoms can cause pain and affect how you’re able to move.

Below are some complications of ankylosing spondylitis that can extend beyond the usual symptoms of this condition.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

This rare neurological condition can develop in people with advanced stages of ankylosing spondylitis. It’s caused by pinching or scarring in the nerves located at the base of the spine. Cauda equina syndrome can include symptoms like:

While these problems are not usually life threatening, they can have a big impact on the overall quality of your life.

Talk with your doctor if you think you’re experiencing cauda equina syndrome. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible to avoid permanent issues like paralysis or loss of bowel control.

Chest pain

Chest pain can signal a host of serious problems. When chest pain develops in people with ankylosing spondylitis, it’s often caused by long-term inflammation in the joints that form the ribs and chest. Scarring from this inflammation can make it more difficult — and painful — to fully expand your chest.

The chest pains that occur with ankylosing spondylitis can mimic those of a heart attack and even cause inflammation in the lungs. Ignoring these symptoms could cause you to ignore cardiac-related chest pain.

See a doctor if you experience chest pains. If ankylosing spondylitis is found to be the cause, your doctor can help teach you deep-breathing exercises that may help increase your chest expansion and reduce pain.

Decreased lung capacity

Chest pain is not the only way ankylosing spondylitis can affect the chest and lungs.

Decreased movement from stiffness and inflammation causes scarring. When this scarring develops in lung tissue, it can make your lungs less effective at exchanging gases between your lung tissues and blood.

As you lose lung function, you become susceptible to a number of respiratory complications that can be life threatening. Even a simple cold or respiratory infection can take a long time to heal.

Overlooked risks of ankylosing spondylitis

Joint and spine symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are common, but the effect the condition can have on the rest of the body might be underestimated. According to the Spondylitis Association of America, people with this condition have:

  • a 43 percent higher risk of death from vascular problems
  • a 60 percent higher risk of death from cerebrovascular problems
  • a 35 percent higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease

There are several factors that can increase the severity of ankylosing spondylitis. These include:

People assigned male at birth who have ankylosing spondylitis also face higher risks.

According to the Spondylitis Association of America, men with this condition are 50 percent more likely to die from vascular complications than men without the condition. Women with ankylosing spondylitis are 34 percent more likely to have these issues than women without the condition.

For a number of reasons, risks increase when the disease sets in at an earlier age. Early onset gives the disease more time to impact your body, and the risk of death from vascular issues in people with ankylosing spondylitis increases by 12 percent every year of life.

It’s important to manage ankylosing spondylitis effectively from the beginning in order to preserve the health of your joints and prevent complications. People with ankylosing spondylitis should develop a treatment plan with a rheumatologist and other healthcare professionals as soon as possible after diagnosis.

Below are some measures that can help improve your outlook:

Ankylosing spondylitis can cause stiffness and discomfort, but more serious complications can also develop over time if your disease becomes severe. Heart and lung problems caused by inflammation from the condition can increase your risk of death.

It’s important to develop an effective treatment regimen as early as possible, and use diet and exercise to prevent complications.