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HealthInfo Canterbury

Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankyolsing Spondylitis illustrationAnkylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that causes back pain. It mainly affects your lower spine, but your ankles, knees, shoulders and eyes can also be affected.

Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation of the joints between the vertebrae, or bones, in your spine. Eventually, this inflammation can cause your vertebrae, and sometimes your pelvic bones, to fuse (this is when bones start to grow together across a joint). This makes your spine much less flexible, so you have a lot less movement in your spine.

More men than women get AS and it usually starts between the ages of 15 and 35. We don't know why AS happens, but it can run in families. 90% of people with AS carry a gene called HLA-B27. But that doesn't mean everyone with the gene will get AS – a lot of people have this gene and very few get AS.

There's no cure for AS, but medication can help to reduce inflammation and manage pain. If you have AS, exercising to keep your spine mobile and strong is one of the most important things you can do. It's 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 also be affected, with pain and swelling. There are also links between AS, an inflammatory eye condition called uveitis, and an inflammatory bowel condition called Crohn's disease.

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

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by rheumatologist, Department of Rheumatology, Immunology & Allergy, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed December 2017.

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Page reference: 78697

Review key: HIANK-78697