Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes lower back pain. Symptoms, including hip pain and a stiff back that may come and go. Over time, vertebrae in the spinal column may fuse and become rigid (ankylosis). Exercise is one of the best ways to ease pain and maintain flexibility. Pain relievers and other medications also help.
Ankylosing spondylitis (pronounced ankle-oh-sing spon-dill-eye-tiss) is a form of arthritis that causes chronic (long-term) spine inflammation. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) inflames the sacroiliac joints located between the base of the spine and pelvis. This inflammation, called sacroiliitis, is one of the first signs of AS. Inflammation often spreads to joints between the vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column. This condition is known as spondylitis.
Some people with AS experience severe, persistent back and hip pain and stiffness. Others have milder symptoms that come and go. Over time, new bone formations may fuse vertebrae sections together, making the spine rigid. This condition is called ankylosis.
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Ankylosing spondylitis belongs to a group of diseases known as spondyloarthropathies. Between three and 13 out of 1,000 Americans have one of these diseases.
Anyone can get AS, although it affects more men than women. Symptoms usually appear in people between the ages of 17 and 45. Ankylosing spondylitis has a genetic link and may run in families.
About 95% of people who have AS have a variation of the human leukocyte antigen-B gene (HLA-B). This changed, or mutated, gene produces a protein called HLA-B27 that increases disease risk. However, most people with a mutated HLA-B gene don’t get AS. In fact, 80% of children who inherit the mutated gene from a parent with AS don’t develop the disease. More than 60 genes have been linked to the condition.
Having one of these conditions may also increase your risk:
Symptoms typically appear between the ages of 17 and 45 but may develop in younger children or older adults. Some people have persistent pain, while others experience milder symptoms. Symptoms may flare up (worsen) and improve (go into remission) off and on. If you have ankylosing spondylitis, you may experience:
There isn’t a test that definitively diagnoses ankylosing spondylitis. After reviewing your symptoms and family history, your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam. Your provider may order one or more of these tests to help guide diagnosis:
Ankylosing spondylitis may affect more than the spine. The disease may inflame joints in the pelvis, shoulders, hips and knees, and between the spine and ribs. People with AS are more prone to spinal fractures (broken vertebrae). Other complications include:
Ankylosing spondylitis is a lifelong condition. While there’s no cure, treatments can prevent long-term complications, reduce joint damage and ease pain. Treatments include:
In addition to standard AS treatments, these steps may also help ease inflammation and pain:
Because ankylosing spondylitis has no known cause, there isn’t any way to prevent it.
Ankylosing spondylitis symptoms may gradually worsen as you age. The condition is rarely disabling or life-threatening. Still, symptoms like joint pain may interfere with your ability to do the things you love. Early interventions can ease inflammation and pain. A combination of physical activity and medications can help.
You should call your healthcare provider if you have AS and experience:
If you have ankylosing spondylitis, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that mostly affects the spine. It’s a lifelong condition without a cure. However, exercise, medications and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms so you can enjoy a long, productive life. It’s rare for someone with AS to become severely disabled. Talk to your healthcare provider about the steps you can take to stay active and manage symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/21/2020.
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