Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic form of inflammatory arthritis that affects 1.6 million people in the United States, which represents only 0.5% of the population. While relatively uncommon, this disease can have a serious impact on those who develop the condition, with complications that range from limited movement to trouble breathing.
At Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, our team of specialists has the knowledge and experience to diagnose and treat ankylosing spondylitis. With a goal toward preventing complications and maintaining a good quality of life, we help our patients in Manchester and Middletown, Connecticut, better manage and control AS.
Here’s a look at how to recognize whether ankylosing spondylitis may be behind your stiff and aching back.
Ankylosing spondylitis 101
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and AS is a less common form that primarily affects the joints in your spine, especially your sacroiliac joints. The disease can also affect tendons and ligaments in your spine, as well as the cartilage between your breastbone and your ribs. While AS tends to target your sacroiliac joints and lower vertebrae, it can also affect your hip and shoulder joints.
AS affects men more than women and tends to run in families, which means that genetics play a large role in the disease. AS typically presents itself during young adulthood, but it can develop in people up to age 40.
There’s some dispute as to whether AS is an autoimmune disorder in which your body mistakenly attacks your joints, which is why we refer to AS as an auto-inflammatory disease. The bottom line is that AS is primarily an inflammatory condition that affects the soft tissues in your affected joints.
Common signs of ankylosing spondylitis
The hallmark of AS is low back and hip pain and stiffness that’s often greater after periods of inactivity, such as when you get out of bed in the morning. These symptoms often subside as you move around, loosening up the joints in your spine.
AS can also lead to:
- Pain in your buttocks
- Pain in your shoulders
- Difficulty breathing
The pain and stiffness can come and go, but AS is chronic and progressive, which means symptoms can get gradually worse. In fact, as it progresses, AS can cause bone growth along your spine that fuses your vertebrae together, creating ongoing problems with pain and stiffness in your back.
Complications of ankylosing spondylitis
As AS advances, some very serious complications can develop (beyond fused vertebrae), such as:
- Osteoporosis or low bone density
- Problems breathing deeply
- Reduced blood flow to your heart
- Sleep apnea
- Uveitis (inflammation in your eye)
If you’re experiencing low back pain and stiffness, in addition to any of the complications above, it’s important to come in and see us as soon as possible. If you have unexplained back pain and stiffness, and your doctors have ruled out musculoskeletal issues, we recommend that you get checked out for AS or other inflammatory conditions.
The earlier we can intervene, the better we can help you manage this chronic disease. To learn more or to make an appointment, please contact one of our two offices by phone or via our convenient online request form.