Definition

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the attachment points between tendons, ligaments, or capsule and bone. It causes arthritis of the joints, mainly the spine and pelvis (sacroiliac joints). Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause inflammation of the eyes, lungs, or heart valves.

In severe cases, new bone may develop between the spinal bones. This can cause some areas of the spine to fuse. This fusion will decrease the flexibility and movement of the spine.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

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Causes

The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is not known. Some cases may be associated with a problem in a specific gene.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of ankylosing spondylitis include:

    
  • Family members with ankylosing spondylitis
  • Having a marker on HLA-B27 gene
  • Inflammatory bowel disease:     
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohns disease
  • Symptoms

    The severity of symptoms can vary from mild to very severe.

    Common symptoms may include:

        
  • Stiffening and pain (arthritis) of the:     
  • Lower back
  • Sacroiliac joint, where the back and hip meet, possibly radiating down the legs
  • Pain that is often worse at night
  • Stiffness that is worse in the morning
  • Symptom improvement with exercise or activity
  • Occasionally, pain and stiffness in other joints:     
  • Knee
  • Upper back
  • Rib cage
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Feet
  • Chest pain, which may suggest heart, heart valve, or lung problems
  • Eye pain, visual changes, increased tearing
  • Less common symptoms may include:

        
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fever
  • Numbness (if arthritic spurs compress the spinal nerves)
  • Blood in the urine or swelling from kidney disease
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on common symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis, such as:

        
  • Dramatic loss of motion of the lower back and spine
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Limited chest expansion when taking deep breaths
  • Blood tests may be done to check for:

        
  • HLA-B27 gene marker
  • Abnormalities in the blood
  • Signs of autoimmune disease
  • Images of involved joints may be taken with:

        
  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Treatment

    There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis. Treatment is aimed at providing education and relieving the symptoms.

    Treatments may include:

    Medications

    Medication may help to control pain and inflammation. They may include:

        
  • Over-the-counter medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Prescription medication that suppresses the inflammation such as:     
  • Prescription NSAIDs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-inhibitors
  • Physical Therapy

    Physical therapy may help prevent progression and worsening of symptoms. Treatment may include:

        
  • Learning proper posture and the best positions for sleeping
  • Exercise program that includes:     
  • Abdominal and back exercises (to decrease back stiffness and maintain good posture)
  • Stretching exercises
  • Water exercises
  • Breathing exercises (in cases where the rib cage is affected)
  • Surgery

    In severe cases, hip or joint replacement surgery may be needed. It will be done to relieve pain and help you move around easier. In some instances, spinal surgery is needed to allow an upright posture.

    Prevention

    There are no guidelines for preventing ankylosing spondylitis because the cause is unknown.