With proper management, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) alone does not typically lower your life expectancy. But in rare cases, it can result in serious complications that may affect it.

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

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 of the heart and lungs.

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

Ankylosing spondylitis mostly affects the spine. Yet, the stiffness and inflammation it causes in the spine 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 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 at the base of the spine.

Cauda equina syndrome can include symptoms like:

While these problems are not usually life threatening, they can greatly affect your overall quality of life.

Talk with a 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 expand your chest fully.

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

Contact a healthcare professional if you experience chest pains. If ankylosing spondylitis is 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 several 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% higher risk of death from vascular problems
  • 60% higher risk of death from cerebrovascular problems
  • 35% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Was this helpful?

Several factors may 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% more likely to die from vascular complications than men without the condition. Women with ankylosing spondylitis are 34% more likely to have these issues than women without the condition.

For several reasons, risks increase when the disease starts earlier. Early onset gives the disease more time to impact your body. The risk of death from vascular issues in people with ankylosing spondylitis increases by 12% every year of life.

It’s important to manage ankylosing spondylitis effectively from the beginning 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:

  • Find a good medication regimen. This may require some trial and error. Some medications work better for some people and not others.
  • Exercise regularly to help maintain good posture and flexibility.
  • Consider special diets that give you the nutrients you need to reduce inflammation.
  • Reduce stress with things like meditation, yoga, or counseling.
  • Use complementary treatments like acupuncture or physical therapy to improve your overall well-being and manage discomfort.
  • Use heat and cold therapy to treat inflammation and pain.

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 plan as early as possible and use diet and exercise to prevent complications.