There’s no cure for ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a painful, chronic form of arthritis that causes inflammation in your spinal joints. With treatment, the condition’s progression may be slowed and its symptoms reduced. The earlier you start treatment, the better.

Back pain is common. So when it strikes, you may think you’ve simply overdone it or believe it isn’t serious. If you’ve recently received an AS diagnosis, you may feel your symptoms aren’t bad enough to treat. But this lack of urgency can set you up for severe pain or cause the disease to progress.

According to a 2011 article published in The Practitioner, AS affects up to 0.5 percent of the population. And early intervention is critical because new therapies can keep the condition manageable or put it into remission.

If you have AS or think you might, don’t wait to seek treatment. Here’s why:

The main symptom of AS is chronic, or long-term, pain ranging from mild to severe. It’s important to treat pain to stay ahead of it. Once it becomes severe, it’s more difficult to manage.

The physical toll of ongoing pain is often obvious, but the toll is also emotional. Research shows chronic pain negatively impacts:

  • mood and mental health
  • sexual function
  • cognitive abilities
  • brain function
  • sexual function
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular health

The good news is research also indicates treating chronic pain successfully may reverse its negative effects on the brain.

Most people with AS live full and productive lives. Still, living with a painful chronic condition is challenging and at times downright difficult. It affects every area of your life and makes daily tasks more difficult.

You may struggle to manage AS symptoms at work or prefer to stay close to home instead of pursuing a social life. This may lead to feelings of frustration, depression, and anxiety. A 2016 study showed people with AS are 60 percent more likely to seek help for depression than the background population.

AS primarily affects your spine and large joints, but it may wreak havoc in other areas of your body too. According to the Cleveland Clinic, AS results in eye issues in 25 to 40 percent of people with the disease. Iritis, a condition that causes eye inflammation, light sensitivity, and even vision loss, is common.

AS may cause heart problems such as inflammation of your aorta, arrhythmias, and ischemic heart disease.

Some other ways AS can affect your body are:

  • lung scarring
  • decreased lung volume and difficulty breathing
  • neurological complications from scarring of
    nerves at the base of your spine

Many new therapies are available to treat AS. Early treatment may reduce your risk of developing scarring of connective tissues, a condition called fibrosis. Left untreated, fibrosis can cause bone ossification, or hardening, of spinal ligaments and joints.

Early treatment may also help you prevent AS complications outside your joints like the ones mentioned previously. If you develop symptoms of a complication, don’t ignore it. Early intervention can mean the difference between living an active life or being disabled.

Early treatment helps limit your risk of AS progression and complications. Don’t wait until your symptoms are severe to seek help. By then, it may be too late to limit the damage. The longer you wait to start treatment, the more difficult it may be to get your pain and other symptoms under control.

If you have back pain and suspect you have AS, contact your doctor. They can figure out if your pain is due to muscle strain and stress or inflammation. If you have AS and feel your symptoms aren’t well-managed, don’t wait for damage to show up on imaging scans. It’s not unusual for scans to show no disease until severe harm has occurred.