Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Ankylosing spondylitis

Mate kĊmitimiti iwituararo

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that causes back pain. It mainly affects your lower spine, but it can also affect your ankles, knees, shoulders and eyes.

Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation of the joints between the vertebrae (bones) in your spine. Eventually, this inflammation can cause your vertebrae and sometimes your pelvic bones to fuse. Fusing 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 do not know why AS happens, but it can run in families. 90% of people with AS carry a gene called HLA-B27. But that does not mean everyone with the gene will get AS. A lot of people have this gene and very few get AS.

Symptoms of 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. The pain usually lasts more than 3 months.

Other joints might also have pain and swelling. There are also links between AS, uveitis and Crohn's disease. Uveitis is an inflammatory eye condition. Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel condition.

Diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis

Your general practice team will take a history of your symptoms and examine your joints. They will also arrange blood tests and an X-ray.

They may also refer you to a rheumatologist (a doctor who specialises in joint problems). The rheumatologist may arrange further investigations such as an MRI scan.

Treating ankylosing spondylitis

There is no cure for AS, but medication can help to reduce inflammation and manage pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce pain and stiffness. NSAIDs include diclofenac, ibuprofen and naproxen.

Pain medication such as paracetamol may help with pain.

Biologic medicines (TNF inhibitors) are disease-modifying medicines used for treating severe AS. The biologics that can be used for AS include adalimumab, etanercept and infliximab.

Doing exercises to keep your muscles strong and your spine mobile is an important part of the treatment. A physiotherapist can help with providing a programme suited for you.

Self-care for ankylosing spondylitis

If you have AS, keeping active is helpful. It is also important to maintain good posture when sitting and standing. Being smoke-free, sleeping well and eating well can all help too.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2024.

Sources

See also:

Weak immune system (immunosuppression)

Page reference: 78697

Review key: HIANK-78697