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What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition of the spinal column.

This inflammation leads to fusion of the vertebra to each other, causing the spine to become bent in a forward direction. The condition is more common in men and usually starts in early adulthood.

Causes of Ankylosing Spondylitis

Research has shown that ankylosing spondylitis is an inherited condition that has a genetic basis. In particular, a gene called HLA B27 is responsible for the development of this condition.

Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis

In the early stages there may not be many symptoms that can aid diagnosis of the condition. However, as the condition progresses, individuals may begin to experience pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips. Typically, the condition affects the lower back and hips but over time can involve the entire spine. Other areas that may be involved are the shoulder joint, cartilage in the front of the chest and the cartilage around the heel.

Diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis

A diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis is made with the help of an X-ray of the spine. Typically, the appearance has been described as ‘bamboo spine.’ The spinal column is arranged like a stick of bamboo.

During clinical examination, the doctor may attempt to elicit different spinal movements to determine the degree of loss of flexibility associated with ankylosing spondylitis. Other tests may include lung capacity studies. There are no specific laboratory tests that can help diagnose ankylosing spondylitis, though genetic studies have been conducted to determine the presence or absence of the specific gene previously mentioned.

It must be kept in mind that the presence of the HLA B27 gene does not necessarily mean that the person has ankylosing spondylitis.

In certain cases, an MRI of the spine can be useful in diagnosis of the condition.

Treatment Options for Ankylosing Spondylitis

The aim of treatment is to reduce pain and restore mobility. Lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking and weight reduction are recommended. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (painkillers) are useful in the early stages. In the event that these drugs do not help reduce pain, more specific agents such as tumor necrosis factor blockers (TNF blockers) may be utilized. These drugs are only administered by an experienced rheumatologist and are not available over-the-counter.