Home Health A – ZA What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Diagnosis

What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Diagnosis

by @dmin@
What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Diagnosis


Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), also known as axial spondyloarthritis, is an inflammatory disease that gradually causes fusion of the vertebrae in the spine. This fusion reduces flexibility and can lead to changes in posture. Here are some key points about AS:

  • Symptoms: Early signs often include low back pain and stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity. Fatigue and neck pain are also common. As the disease progresses, symptoms may worsen, improve, or occur intermittently.
  • Impact: AS can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life. The gradual fusion of vertebrae can lead to a hunched posture, limiting mobility. If the ribs are involved, breathing difficulties may arise. Additionally, inflammation can occur in other parts of the body, such as the eyes.
  • Importance of Understanding: Recognizing AS early is crucial. Timely diagnosis and appropriate management can help alleviate symptoms and slow disease progression. Education about AS empowers patients to seek medical attention promptly and adopt strategies to maintain their well-being.


Common Symptoms:

  1. Chronic Back Pain and Stiffness: Individuals with AS often experience persistent pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips. These symptoms tend to be more pronounced in the morning or after prolonged periods of rest.
  2. Fatigue: AS-related inflammation can lead to fatigue, impacting daily activities and overall energy levels.

Beyond the Spine:

  1. Other Joints: AS doesn’t limit itself to the spine. It can affect other joints, including the hip and shoulder joints. Pain, swelling, and limited movement may occur in these areas.
  2. Enthesitis: Enthesitis refers to inflammation at the sites where tendons and ligaments attach to bones. In AS, enthesitis often occurs along the back of the heel and in the spine.
  3. Costosternal Joints: The cartilage between the breastbone (sternum) and the ribs can be affected, leading to chest discomfort.
  4. Extra-Articular Manifestations:
    • Uveitis: Inflammation of the eye (anterior uveitis) is common in AS. It causes redness, pain, and light sensitivity.
    • Cardiovascular Involvement: AS may increase the risk of heart problems, including aortitis (inflammation of the aorta).
What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Diagnosis

Causes of Ankylosing Spondylitis

Genetic Factors and Immune System Involvement

  • Autoimmune Condition: AS is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. This immune response leads to inflammation and tissue damage. However, experts have not pinpointed a single cause for AS. Instead, it appears to arise from complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors.
  • HLA-B27 Gene: The most significant genetic association with AS is the HLA-B27 gene. People who carry this gene are at a greatly increased risk of developing AS. However, it’s important to note that not everyone with the HLA-B27 gene develops the condition. The exact mechanism by which this gene contributes to AS remains an area of ongoing research.

Diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis

Diagnostic Process

Early diagnosis is essential to prevent complications and manage AS effectively. Here’s how AS is diagnosed:

  1. Medical History: The doctor will ask about your symptoms, family history, and any previous health issues. Be prepared to discuss when your symptoms started, their severity, and any other relevant details.
  2. Physical Examination: The physician will perform a thorough physical examination, focusing on joint mobility, posture, and areas of pain or stiffness. They may also check for signs of inflammation, such as swelling or tenderness.
  3. Imaging Tests:
    • X-rays: X-rays can reveal sacroiliitis (inflammation of the sacroiliac joints) and changes in the spine.
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRI provides detailed images of the spine and can detect early signs of AS.
    • CT (Computed Tomography): CT scans may be used to assess spinal involvement.
  4. Blood Tests:
    • HLA-B27 Testing: While not definitive, a positive HLA-B27 test can support the diagnosis.
    • Inflammatory Markers: Blood tests measure markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) to assess inflammation.

Importance of Early Diagnosis

  • Preventing Complications: Early intervention helps prevent complications such as spinal fusion, joint damage, and reduced mobility.
  • Treatment Planning: Timely diagnosis allows for appropriate treatment strategies, including medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications.

Treatment for Ankylosing Spondylitis


  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These include medications like naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB). They help relieve inflammation, pain, and stiffness associated with AS. However, long-term use may lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Biologic Medications:
    • Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Blockers: Examples include adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), and infliximab (Remicade). These are injected under the skin or through an intravenous line.
    • Interleukin-17 (IL-17) Inhibitors: Secukinumab (Cosentyx) and ixekizumab (Taltz) fall into this category.
    • Janus Kinase (JAK) Inhibitors: Taken orally, options include tofacitinib (Xeljanz) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq).

Physical Therapy and Exercise:

  • Exercise: Crucial at all stages of AS. A tailored exercise program helps maintain flexibility, strength, and posture. Working with a physical therapist is beneficial.

Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Good Posture Practices: Essential to prevent spinal deformity.
  • Heat/Cold Application: Helps relax muscles and reduce joint pain.

Duration and Impact of Ankylosing Spondylitis

  • Chronic Nature: AS is a progressive chronic condition with no known cure. It affects each individual differently, progressing through three stages:
    1. Early Stage: Mild back pain and stiffness, often near the sacroiliac joints. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are helpful.
    2. Progressing Stage: Increased pain and stiffness extending up the spine. Inflammation may affect other body systems (e.g., eyes, digestive tract).
    3. Late Stage: Severe symptoms and potential complications.
  • Daily Impact: AS can limit mobility, affect posture, and cause pain. However, periods of remission provide relief.

Risk Factors for Ankylosing Spondylitis

1. Family History and Genetics:

  • If you have a family history of AS, you are more likely to develop the disease. Genetic factors play a significant role, particularly the presence of the HLA-B27 gene. People carrying this gene are at a greatly increased risk of developing AS.

2. Gender:

  • AS is more common in males than females. Although both genders can develop the condition, men are more frequently affected.

3. Age:

  • Most people develop symptoms of AS before the age of 45. It usually appears during late teenage years or early adulthood.

4. Other Conditions:

  • Individuals with certain related conditions, such as Crohn’s diseaseulcerative colitis, or psoriasis, may be more susceptible to developing AS.

Complications of Ankylosing Spondylitis

1. Spinal Fusion:

  • One of the main complications is the gradual fusion of the vertebrae in the affected part of the spine. This fusion leads to:
    • Stiffness and inflexibility in the affected area.
    • Hunched forward posture due to flattened natural spinal curves.
    • Difficulty in breathing, especially when the ribs are affected.

2. Reduced Mobility:

  • AS can limit joint movement, affecting daily activities and overall mobility. Hip joints, in particular, may require hip replacement in severe cases.

3. Other Complications:

  • Uveitis: Inflammation of the eye, which can cause redness, pain, and light sensitivity.
  • Compression Fractures: In severe cases, fractures in the vertebrae can lead to compression of the spinal cord.
  • Cardiovascular Issues: AS may increase the risk of heart problems, including aortitis (inflammation of the aorta) and aortic valve diseases.

Research and Statistics

Recent Advancements in AS Research:

  1. Immunotherapies: Immunotherapies, particularly precision immunotherapy, have shown promise in managing AS. Researchers are exploring novel approaches to modulate the immune response and reduce inflammation.
  2. Gene Editing and Epigenetics: Advances in gene editing techniques and understanding epigenetic modifications offer potential avenues for targeted therapies in AS.
  3. Structural Biology and Medicinal Chemistry: Researchers are designing drugs that specifically target previously considered “undruggable” cancer proteins. These approaches may also benefit AS treatment.
  4. Gut Microbiome: Growing evidence suggests a link between AS and the gut microbiome. Understanding this connection may lead to innovative therapeutic strategies.

Global Prevalence and Impact:

  • Prevalence: AS affects approximately 0.1% to 1.4% of the global population. However, reported prevalence varies across studies and regions.
  • Impact: AS is a chronic inflammatory condition primarily affecting the spine and sacroiliac joints. It leads to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Beyond joints, AS can impact other organs, including the eyes, lungs, and skin.

Conditions Related to Ankylosing Spondylitis

Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA):

  • Commonalities: PsA shares similarities with AS. Both involve inflammation and are associated with the HLA-B27 gene. PsA affects joints, skin, and nails, often co-occurring with psoriasis.
  • Differences: PsA specifically targets joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. Skin involvement (psoriasis) is common. While PsA may affect the GI tract, it doesn’t always lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):

  • Commonalities: Both AS and IBD involve chronic inflammation. Research suggests a link between PsA and IBD, particularly Crohn’s disease. The gut microbiome plays a role in both conditions.
  • Differences: IBD encompasses Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract, causing symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fatigue. AS, on the other hand, primarily targets the spine and joints.

Resources We Trust

  1. Spondylitis Association of America (SAA):
    • SAA offers a wealth of resources for individuals living with spondyloarthritis, including:
      • Support Groups: In-person and virtual support groups where you can connect with others managing AS.
      • Online Community Forums: A space for free exchange of information and support.
      • Assistance Programs: Listings of programs that help with medication costs and healthcare needs.
      • Crisis Intervention Resources: Immediate support for those in crisis.
      • Community Stories: Personal stories shared by people with spondyloarthritis.
      • Educational Videos: A seven-part video series for newly diagnosed individuals.
      • Life Café: Casual lifestyle tips and articles from peers and friends.
  2. WebMD Ankylosing Spondylitis Guide:
    • Provides links to help, support, and advice for AS. Includes nonprofit organizations, blogs, and online communities.
  3. Resources for Medical Professionals | SPONDYLITIS.ORG:
    • Valuable resources for healthcare professionals treating spondyloarthritis patients. Includes educational materials and support programs.
  4. The Arthritis Connection: Support and Financial Resource Organizations for Ankylosing Spondylitis:
    • A comprehensive list of online communities, moderated by patients and doctors, where you can find information, share experiences, and receive emotional support.


In summary, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory condition that primarily affects the spine and sacroiliac joints. Early diagnosis is crucial for preventing complications such as spinal fusion and reduced mobility. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Know the Symptoms: Recognize early signs of AS, including chronic back pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
  • Seek Medical Attention: Consult a healthcare professional promptly if you experience suggestive symptoms.
  • Treatment Options: Explore medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications to manage AS effectively.
  • Related Conditions: Understand the commonalities and differences between AS, psoriatic arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Support and Resources: Utilize reputable resources like SAA, WebMD, and patient communities for information, assistance, and emotional support.


What is ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is diagnosed through a combination of patient history, physical examination, and imaging tests. Doctors often look for symptoms such as Continuous lower back and hip soreness and inflexibility, that improve with exercise but not rest. Blood tests to detect inflammation and genetic markers (like the HLA-B27 gene) may also be conducted. Imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI scans are used to identify changes in the spine and sacroiliac joints.

What is the best treatment for ankylosing spondylitis?

The best treatment for ankylosing spondylitis typically includes a combination of medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are frequently utilized to alleviate pain and swelling. In more severe cases, biologic medications such as TNF inhibitors or IL-17 inhibitors may be prescribed. Regular exercise, particularly stretching and strengthening exercises, is crucial for maintaining flexibility and posture. Physical therapy can provide personalized exercise programs and techniques to manage symptoms.

What’s the best treatment for spondylitis?

The best treatment for spondylitis varies depending on the type and severity. For ankylosing spondylitis, a combination of NSAIDs, biologic medications, physical therapy, and regular exercise is often recommended. For other types of spondylitis, treatment may include pain management with NSAIDs or other medications, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery to correct structural issues. It’s crucial to collaborate with a healthcare professional to create a tailored treatment strategy.

What is the main cause of spondylitis?

The main cause of spondylitis, particularly ankylosing spondylitis, is not entirely understood but is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A strong genetic component is indicated by the presence of the HLA-B27 gene in many individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. Inflammatory processes in the body also play a key role in the development of the condition.

What are the symptoms of spondylitis?

Symptoms of spondylitis can vary but commonly include:

  • Chronic back pain and stiffness, especially in the lower back and hips
  • Pain and stiffness that improve with exercise but not rest
  • Diminished flexibility of the spine
  • Fatigue
  • In severe cases, fusion of the vertebrae leads to a loss of spinal mobility
  • Pain and swelling in other joints, such as the shoulders, knees, and ankles
How is spondylosis diagnosed?

Spondylosis is diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and imaging studies. Doctors assess symptoms like chronic neck or back pain and stiffness. Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans are used to detect degenerative changes in the spine, such as disc degeneration, bone spurs, and facet joint arthritis. Sometimes, additional tests like nerve conduction studies or electromyography may be conducted if there are signs of nerve involvement.

What tests confirm spondylitis?

Tests that confirm spondylitis include:

  • Imaging tests: X-rays, MRI, or CT scans to detect changes in the spine and sacroiliac joints.
  • Blood tests: To detect markers of inflammation (e.g., ESR, CRP) and the presence of the HLA-B27 gene.
  • Physical examination: Assessing the range of motion, pain, and stiffness in the spine and joints.
How is spondylosis treated?

Spondylosis treatment aims to manage pain and improve function. Treatment options include:

  • Medications: NSAIDs for pain relief, muscle relaxants, and sometimes corticosteroid injections.
  • Physical therapy: Workouts to enhance suppleness, power, and alignment
  • Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and proper ergonomics.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgical options like spinal fusion or decompression may be considered.
Which doctor can diagnose spondylitis?

Rheumatologists are the primary specialists who diagnose and treat spondylitis, particularly ankylosing spondylitis. They specialize in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases affecting the joints and muscles. Other doctors who may be involved in the diagnosis and management of spondylitis include orthopedic specialists, neurologists, and primary care physicians.

Important Notice:

The information provided on “health life ai” is intended for informational purposes only. While we have made efforts to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the information presented, we cannot guarantee its absolute correctness or completeness. Before applying any of the strategies or tips, please consult a professional medical adviser.

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