If you’ve recently been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, you’ll likely have a lot of questions for your doctor. These questions may include topics like treatment, therapies, and the basics of what ankylosing spondylitis really is.

Here are the answers to some of the most common ankylosing spondylitis questions. Let this be a potential discussion guide you can take with you to your next doctor’s appointment.

Most likely. Ankylosing spondylitis is currently classified as both an autoimmune-type of arthritis and a chronic inflammatory disease.

An autoimmune disease develops when your body attacks its own healthy tissues.

Ankylosing spondylitis is also an inflammatorycondition involving inflamed or swollen joints that can break down over time. This may start in the sacroiliac joints, which are located in the pelvis on both sides of the lower spine.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine and the sacroiliac joints. Like other types of arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis involves pain and inflammation in the spinal joints.

Ankylosing spondylitis occurs at the vertebrae (spinal joints), where connective tissue inserts on the bone. It can also cause inflammation where your tendons and ligaments insert on your bones. This is known as enthesitis.

Additionally, the pain and discomfort from ankylosing spondylitis could lead to symptoms in other joints, such as your shoulders and hips.

Your primary doctor might initially suspect ankylosing spondylitis, or in some cases diagnose the condition. After this point, though, they may refer you to a rheumatologist. This type of doctor specializes in diseases of the joints, bones, and muscles.

A rheumatologist might be your go-to doctor for treatment. You may also need to see other professionals to help you manage your condition, such as a physical therapist, or an ophthalmologist if you have eye symptoms (uveitis).

Ankylosing spondylitis treatment involves medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes. Surgery is another possibility, but is rare.

Your rheumatologist may recommend a combination of the following ankylosing spondylitis treatments:

  • hot and cold therapies to reduce pain and inflammation
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) to decrease pain and inflammation
  • biologics, such as TNF inhibitors or interleukin 17 (IL-17) inhibitors, which are injected or given by IV infusion
  • disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to treat pain and inflammation in smaller joints
  • physical therapy
  • light exercises to reduce pain and increase mobility, such as swimming
  • posture exercises

Your doctor may also recommend an anti-inflammatory diet that’s rich in vegetables and healthy fats, while low in processed foods. Avoid smoking as well, as it drives inflammation.

Most people with ankylosing spondylitis don’t need surgery. Surgery is a last resort option for people with severe joint damage.

The goal of spinal surgery is to correct your posture. If surrounding joints are severely damaged, you might need surgery for these areas, too. One example is a hip replacement for hip joint damage.

It can take time to recover from surgery, but many people who have surgery for ankylosing spondylitis eventually experience less pain.

Physical therapy works by teaching you exercises to increase movement and flexibility, while also decreasing your pain. A physical therapist may also walk you through posture exercises to help your spine, increase flexibility, and preserve range of motion.

Anyone with ankylosing spondylitis can benefit from physical therapy.

One of the most serious complications of ankylosing spondylitis is a condition called ankylosis. This is when new bones form on top of your spine and get stuck in place. This can eventually lead to immobility.

Ankylosing spondylitis may eventually damage joints in other parts of your body. These include your hips, shoulders, and ribs. An X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound can determine if you have arthritis in other joints.

Another possible complication is anterior uveitis. This is a type of inflammation that affects your eyes, causing eye pain and light sensitivity.

In rare cases, ankylosing spondylitis may lead to heart and lung complications.

Worsening symptoms can mean that your treatment isn’t working as it should and that your ankylosing spondylitis is progressing.

For example, your spine might feel stiffer or more painful than usual. Or you might begin to experience symptoms in other joints. Excessive fatigue is another possible sign of increased inflammation.

If you experience any new or worsening symptoms, call your doctor right away. They might recommend a change in your treatment plan to alleviate your discomfort and prevent your condition from getting worse.

There’s no cure for ankylosing spondylitis. There aren’t cures for most other forms of arthritis as well.

However, a combination of therapies, medications, and lifestyle changes can improve your symptoms while also decreasing the rate of progression and joint damage. Your doctor will advise you on the next best steps based on the severity of your ankylosing spondylitis.

A diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis can be confusing, but it’s important to gain as much knowledge on your condition as you can. If you still have questions, make sure you bring them up with your doctor at your next appointment. Doing so can help you get the treatment you need to prevent your condition from getting worse.