Ankylosing Spondylitis

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis is a long-term chronic condition that affects the spine and other areas of the body. It causes inflammation and often develops in teenagers and young adults with it being more common in men than women.

The condition can cause back pain and stiffness that gets better with exercise while the hips, knees and ribs experience pain and swelling and often, patients will experience fatigue. These symptoms often develop slowly over months and years while they can come and go. In many people, the condition eases with time but it can get worse.

Diagnosing Ankylosing Spondylitis

The symptoms of the condition can be similar to that of other conditions. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and what you are experiencing while they will also try to determine when they started.

In order to check for signs of inflammation in the body, your doctor might arrange blood tests. In some cases, further testing is required which means that X-rays, MRI scans or an ultrasound scan may be required. Genetic testing might be required, whereby it is determined if a patient carries the HLA – B27 gene.

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Treating Ankylosing Spondylitis

There is no cure for the condition and so, it has to be managed by using exercise, physiotherapy and medication. Remaining active can help to ease stiffness and improve posture. A physiotherapist will help to provide patients with effective exercises, massage and hydrotherapy, all of which can help to ease the symptoms.

Medication is also used to help reduce the inflammation and so, Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs will be prescribed while there are other forms of medication that can be used including corticosteroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs and painkillers.

In some cases, surgery might be necessary where joints are replaced in order to improve the pain and range of movement.

Managing Ankylosing Spondylitis

Patients will find that keeping active can help to ease symptoms and prevent stiffness. The use of hot and cold packs can help to relieve the pain associated with inflammation.

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Ankylosing Spondylitis FAQs

What causes ankylosing spondylitis?

According to medical research, nine out of ten people diagnosed with AS carry a gene called human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27). However, having the gene doesn’t mean you will develop AS; it just makes you more prone to it. Research suggests that one or more environmental factors can trigger AS, but there still are no definite causes.

How common is ankylosing spondylitis?

AS is an uncommon health condition, with the average GP only seeing one new case per year. According to NICE research, the prevalence of ankylosing spondylitis is believed to range from 0.05% to 0.23% [NICE, 2016]. AS most commonly develops between the ages of 20 and 30, and there is a strong familial association associated with the HLA-B27 antigen.

How fast does ankylosing spondylitis progress?

While there is no cure for AS, there is treatment available to help relieve the symptoms and help to slow down or stall the progression of the spine fusing and stiffening. AS treatment plans use a multidisciplinary approach combining medication, physiotherapy, exercise and lifestyle changes.

How to sleep with ankylosing spondylitis?

People with AS find it challenging to sleep, with insomnia, waking during the night and feeling uncomfortable being the leading complaints. It can help to practice good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine and other stimulants before bed, setting a regular bedtime, and sleeping on a supportive mattress. Using a lightweight duvet is better than heavy blankets that can weigh you down and restrict movement during the night. Gentle stretching before bed can release stress and tension and calm your mind before sleeping. Inactivity can make joint stiffness worse, so taking gentle exercise in the day and stretching can help you to sleep better at night.

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