Ankylosing Spondylitis

What is ankylosing spondylitis (AS)?

AS is a disease causing inflammation and pain in the spine. Early symptoms often include back and neck pain, which is usually worse early in the morning or after rest. The pain and improves with exercise. AS can also affect other joints or include symptoms such as bowel irritation and sore eyes.

Common early symptoms include aching across the buttocks and pain across the chest or between the shoulder blades. Symptoms may flare and go into remission or slowly worsen over time. Without early treatment AS may lead to permanent stiffening of the spine and damage to other joints.

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Who gets it?

AS is more prevalent in men than in women. It usually runs in the family and can be associated with people who carry the HLA-B27 gene. Generally symptoms will appear between the ages of 15-40.

How is it diagnosed?

A rheumatologist diagnoses AS by analyzing tests and examining your symptoms. The rheumatologist will usually discuss your family history; examine your spine and other joints, your eyes; test a blood sample for the HLA-B27 gene; and may order an x-ray or scan of your spine and pelvis.

What is the treatment?

There is currently no cure for AS but there has been great progress in managing the disease.

Medications: Medications can help slow down the damage, relieve pain and stiffness and reduce long term disability. The aim of treatment is remission - to be symptom free and return to normal function. Each person responds differently to medications, so you will need to work with your rheumatologist or GP to find the best medications for you.

Eating well: Eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, sugar and salt, but high in fruit, vegetables and cereals is good for most people. Managing your weight can help you reduce strain on your lower back, hips, legs and feet.

Keeping active: Regular physical activity helps reduce pain, strengthen muscles, maintain good posture and improves overall health. Consider working on a prescribed set of exercises with your physiotherapist. Suggested activities include swimming, walking, jogging, low-impact aerobics and tennis. With Australian cricketing legend Michael Slater, Arthritis Australia has developed stretching exercises specifically for people with AS.

Psychological: By taking control of your condition you can approach it with a positive attitude. Early diagnosis, a good relationship with your doctor and assistance from a psychologist can help you to deal with pain and the psychological impact of AS.

Want to know more about AS?

Contact our free infoline on 1800 011 041 for the latest information, contacts for support groups, exercise programs and arthritis management services.