What is ankylosing spondylitis?
Signs and symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis
How does ankylosing spondylitis develop?
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Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory disease.
The word 'ankylosing' means the stiffening of a joint when the bones and tissues around it fuse together. The tissues involved in ankylosing spondylitis include ligaments (these hold the bones around the joint together), muscles and tendons (these attach muscles to the joint).
The word 'spondylitis' means inflammation of the bones in the spine (the vertebrae). So ankylosing spondylitis literally means a condition where the joints - usually in the back - fuse together and become inflamed.
If you have this type of arthritis one of the first things you may notice is that you get pain and stiffness in the low part of your back. Although ankylosing spondylitis mainly affects the spine it can happen in other tissues in the body, such as the eyes, lungs, bowel and heart.
The condition tends to run in families. It's lifelong, usually starting before the age of 35. Symptom progression varies from person to person, but is usually ongoing with periods when the symptoms get worse or 'flare'. It is a painful condition in some people and may eventually lead to a fusion of the spine and disabilities.
There's no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are treatments that can control your symptoms and may even halt the progress of the disease. Getting your condition diagnosed early and starting treatment promptly can help prevent disability. That's why it's important to see your doctor if you think you may have ankylosing spondylitis.
See how much you know about ankylosing spondylitis by taking our true or false quiz.
Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are no more than minor aches and pains.
- Ankylosing spondylitis can cause serious problems if left untreated and requires specialist care.
Ankylosing spondylitis progression means the disease always gets worse.
- Treatment in the early stages of many types of arthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis, can stop the symptoms getting worse. This is why it is important to see a doctor if you think you may have this condition.
Nothing can be done about ankylosing spondylitis symptoms.
- New medicines mean that the progress of ankylosing spondylitis and other types of arthritis can be significantly slowed or even halted. Treatment can prevent or reduce the impact of arthritis on joint pain.
Only old people get arthritis.
- If you have ankylosing spondylitis you’ll usually notice symptoms before you hit 35. It is important to note that it is not a disease of getting older.
There are over 200 types of arthritis. Although all forms of arthritis share some of the same symptoms, they have different causes and treatments. A condition called osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, while rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common. It’s easy to get muddled between these two types of arthritis but actually they’re very different diseases although it is possible to get both of them at the same time.
Although the exact cause of osteoarthritis is not known, it happens when tissue at the end of the joints – called the cartilage – breaks down over time and becomes thin and cracked. Osteoarthritis is most commonly found in the knees, hips, hands, or spine, though it can occur in any joint.
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto immune disease in which the body’s defence system mistakenly attacks itself. In rheumatoid arthritis, the lining of a joint is attacked by the immune system cells causing inflammation (swelling). Once inflamed, the bone releases chemicals that damage the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments near the joint. Eventually the joint itself is destroyed.
Our genes have a strong role to play in determining whether we are susceptible to ankylosing spondylitis. More than nine out of 10 people with the condition will be able to trace it in their family. But not everyone with a genetic susceptibility to the disease will get it. Ankylosing spondylitis occurs in both men and women, but is more common in men. It seems that something in the environment is also important for triggering the condition. Doctors don't know exactly what these triggers are, but they may be things that are relatively harmless for most people, such as an infection.
The first symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis usually appear before the age of 35. So if you're past this age you're unlikely to have it.
Ankylosing spondylitis can start at any time from the teenage
years up to the age of about 35. It rarely starts in old age.
About 200,000 people in the UK have ankylosing spondylitis -
that's about 2 to 5 people in every 1 000. Although both men and
women get ankylosing spondylitis it's three times more common in
men. The condition also affects men and women slightly
It's not possible to prevent ankylosing spondylitis. But early
diagnosis and treatment with the new medicines that are available
nowadays can slow down or halt the progress of the disease in some
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The information provided on this site is intended for general information and education and is not intended to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional
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