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HealthInfo Canterbury

Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis. It mainly affects the spine, however the knees ankles and eyes can also be affected. Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation of the soft tissues around the vertebrae, or bones, of the spine. Eventually this inflammation causes the vertebrae, and sometimes the pelvis, to fuse. This makes the spine much less flexible, so a person with ankylosing spondylitis has a lot less movement in their spine. You can see this in the picture on below.

Ankyolsing Spondylitis illustrationMore men than women get AS and it usually starts between the ages of 15 and 35. There is a genetic component to the disease: it often runs in families and 90% of people with AS carry the HLA-B27 gene. But that doesn't mean everyone with the gene will get AS – a lot of people have it and very few go on to develop AS.

There is no cure for AS, but medication can help to reduce inflammation and manage pain. If you have AS, one of the most important things you can do is keep your spine mobile and strong, through exercise. It is also important to maintain a good posture when sitting and standing.

Do I have ankylosing spondylitis?

The most common symptoms of AS are pain and stiffness in your back and neck, which can be worse at night or when you wake up. The stiffness tends to improve once you get moving.

Other joints might be affected, with pain and swelling. There is also a link between AS and an inflammatory eye condition called uveitis and an inflammatory bowel condition called Crohn's.

If you think you might have symptoms of AS, visit your GP. They may then examine you and do some blood tests or X-rays. If your GP thinks you have AS, they will probably refer you to a rheumatologist for further assessment.

For more information about ankylosing spondylitis see the links below.

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