Sometimes people face difficulty in moving their backs after staying in the same position for some time. Such conditions often arise from ankylosing spondylitis or AS, as it is often termed in short.
So you may want to know what this is all about. In that case an overview of ankylosing spondylitis and little information on the prognosis, the risk groups and availability of cure for the condition may help.
What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis is just a type of spondylitis and generally affects the spine. However, involvement of the joints is also seen. The spinal joints get inflamed and that can cause severe pain which can become chronic. In the advanced stages new bones may form resulting in fusing of the spine which can lead to a permanent forward stooping posture.
Not only the back, but other parts of the body like the shoulders, hips and small joints of both the hands and legs may get affected in some cases. Inflammation and pain together with stiffness are generally seen in these conditions. The joint that gets severely affected is the one where the spine and the pelvic join and this can be called the distinguishing feature of ankylosing spondylitis. This joint is called the sacroiliac joint.
Causes of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Once you know what the disease is all about, then it is quite natural that you will want to know how it is caused. Physicians and scientists are yet to zero in on the exact causes of ankylosing spondylitis but a genetic involvement is suspected. The genetic marker that is under suspicion is a protein termed HLA-B27.
But that still does not mean that if you have this marker then you will have ankylosing spondylitis. It is believed that external triggers are also required to cause the onset of the condition and they also include other genes. In fact, till now the scientists suspect that only 40% of the people carrying the marker HLA-B27 have the chance of getting ankylosing spondylitis.
As far as the mechanism of the development of the condition is concerned, scientists suspect that when the intestinal defense mechanism breaks down and the bacteria get released into the bloodstream at the point near the sacroiliac joints, ankylosing spondylitis sets in. However, scientists are yet to pass the final verdict.
Are You at Risk?
When you learn about the possible causes, the question that comes to mind is – am I at risk? So, who are at risk? The persons who may be at risk are those who may have tested positive for HLA-B27 marker; has a family history of ankylosing spondylitis and suffer from gastrointestinal infections frequently.
Generally you will have to be positive in all three to be in the high risk group. Normally the onset is seen at quite an early age, between 17 and 35 and most often it is the men who get affected. Ankylosing spondylitis is sometimes noticed in children too.
Prognosis (the Course of the Disease)
It is not that ankylosing spondylitis is always seen in its full severity in every affected person. So it is not true that a person having ankylosing spondylitis will always get fused spine. However, the severity can reach such a stage that a person can even become disabled.
In the less severe form a person may only experience back pain and stiffness occasionally. Such condition may be experienced at various points of the body and may persist for some time. However, the common symptom is an acute pain that can stay for some time before subsiding with time. Though all cases of ankylosing spondylitis may not turn severe, it is advised that if you find such pain occurring regularly, even though mild, contact a rheumatologist so that any complications in the future may be avoided.
Cures for Ankylosing Spondylitis
The news here is not very assuring because till date no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis has been developed. The treatments aim at reducing the symptoms and focuses mainly at managing the pain and stiffness. Generally a treatment regimen for ankylosing spondylitis consists of practicing good posture, physical therapy and medication.
Medication may include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in the early stages and when they fail then the second line of medication like corticosteroids, sulfasalazine and methotrexate are used. These drugs are generally known as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. In the extreme cases, surgery like knee and hip joint replacement is required to bring about normalcy.
Developments in the fields of biological medicines may provide some hope. TNF blockers (biological drugs) have shown promises to be effective in treating arthritis of both the joints and spine. But these too, as far as the present situation goes, may not cure but just stop or retard the progression of the disease in some cases.