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Ankylosing spondylitis

Contents of this page:


Skeletal spine
Skeletal spine
Cervical spondylosis
Cervical spondylosis

Alternative Names    Return to top

Rheumatoid spondylitis; Spondylitis; Spondylarthropathy

Definition    Return to top

Ankylosing spondylitis is a long-term disease that causes inflammation of the joints between the spinal bones and the joints between the spine and the pelvis. It eventually causes the affected spinal bones to join together.

See also: Arthritis

Causes    Return to top

The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is unknown, but genes seem to play a role.

The disease most frequently begins between ages 20 and 40, but may begin before age 10. It affects more males than females. Risk factors include a family history of ankylosing spondylitis and male gender.

Symptoms    Return to top

The disease starts with hip or low back pain that comes and goes and is worse at night, in the morning, or after inactivity.

Back pain may begin in the sacroiliac joints (between the pelvis and the spine) and involve all or part of the spine.

Pain may go away by bending over. You may not be able to fully expand your chest because of the involvement of the joints between the ribs.

Specific symptoms:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Tests may include:

Treatment    Return to top

Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain.

Corticosteroid therapy or medications to suppress the immune system may also be prescribed. Drugs called TNF-inhibitors (etanercept, adalimumab, infliximab), which block an inflammatory protein, have been shown to improve the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis.

Some health care professionals use drugs that block cell growth (cytotoxic drugs) in people who do not respond well to corticosteroids or who are dependent on high doses of corticosteroids.

Surgery may be done if pain or joint damage is severe.

Exercises can help improve posture and breathing. Lying flat on the back at night can help maintain normal posture.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

The course of the disease is unpredictable. Symptoms may come and go at any time. Most people are able to function unless the hips are severely involved.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Damage of bone and cartilage can lead to fusing of joints in the spine or other areas, which can interfere with your ability to move. It can be extremely painful and crippling. The heart, lungs, and eyes may also become affected.

Complications include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis or if you have ankylosing spondylitis and new symptoms develop during treatment.

Prevention    Return to top

Prevention is unknown. Awareness of risk factors may allow early detection and treatment.

References    Return to top

Goldman L, Ausiello DA. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

Sidiropoulos PI, Hatemi G, Song IH, et al. Evidence-based recommendations for the management of ankylosing spondylitis: systematic literature search of the 3E Initiative in Rheumatology involving a broad panel of experts and practising rheumatologists. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008. 47(3):355-61.

Dagfinrud H, Kvien TK, Hagen KB. Physiotherapy interventions for ankylosing spondylitis. Cochrane Database, Syst Rev. 2008. (1):CD002822.

Update Date: 4/24/2008

Updated by: Neil J. Gonter, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Columbia University, NY and private practice specializing in Rheumatology at Rheumatology Associates of North Jersey, Teaneck, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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