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Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the joints of the lower back. ‘Ankylosing’ means stiffening and ‘spondylitis’ means inflammation of the spine.

What are the causes of ankylosing spondylitis?

The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is not clear and it is more common among young men than women.

There is no cure for the condition, but, like most forms of inflammatory arthritis, it can go into remission.

What happens in ankylosing spondylitis?

In AS, the sacroiliac joints (which join the base of the spine to the pelvis) become inflamed. This is why your lower back may feel sore first thing in the morning. The list below tells you what happens.

  1. Inflammation occurs
  2. Scar tissue forms in the spaces between vertebrae (the chain of bones that make up the spine)
  3. Scar tissue may turn into bone and fill the space between the vertebrae
  4. The joint is effectively fused and movement of the spine is limited

How will ankylosing spondylitis affect me?

The initial symptoms are pain, aching and stiffness in the lower back. You may also feel pain further up the back and restricted movement of the chest.

_ML24982Some people will experience pain and discomfort on and off for a number of years until the inflammation ceases, but most will be able to lead a full and active life. In others, movement of the spine may be severely limited.

On some days you may feel overwhelmingly tired. Another symptom is inflammation of the eyes (called iritis) which needs immediate treatment to prevent further damage.

How is ankylosing spondylitis treated?

It is very important that you get diagnosed early to minimise the damage to your joints. There are a number of ways to manage your condition:

  • exercise, to maintain mobility, prevent the joints from being fused into a bad position and to help relieve pain
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation
  • disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to control your arthritis if it lasts more than a few months
  • anti-TNF drugs (or biologics), which can be very good at controlling severe ankylosing spondylitis

If the hip joints are badly affected, hip replacement may be suggested.

More information on ankylosing spondylitis

The Arthritis Care Helpline is available to answer any specific questions you may have on all aspects of arthritis.

Return to Types of Arthritis

I was feeling very timid but I managed to pluck up the courage to go to a [an Arthritis Care] meeting. I was made to feel so welcome and became one of the gang. Knowing there’s other people who know where I’m at and who care has brought me back to life. I feel like I’m part of a family now and we are going through the same thing.

Michelle, ankylosing spondylitis and fibromyalgia suffer, Flintshire, Wales