What are the complications of ankylosing spondylitis (AS)?

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:

  • Fused vertebrae (ankylosis).
  • Kyphosis (forward curvature of the spine).
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Painful eye inflammation (iritis or uveitis) and sensitivity to light (photophobia).
  • Heart disease, including aortitis, arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy.
  • Chest pain that affects breathing.
  • Jaw inflammation.
  • Cauda equina syndrome (nerve scarring and inflammation).

How is ankylosing spondylitis (AS) managed or treated?

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:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can slow or stop disease progression. Many people experience worse pain when they’re inactive. Movement seems to lessen pain. Your healthcare provider can recommend safe exercises.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, including ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®), ease pain and inflammation.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs): Medications such as sulfasalazine reduce pain and joint swelling. The drugs also treat lesions caused by inflammatory bowel disease. Newer DMARDs called biologics help control inflammation by changing the immune system. Biologics include tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin inhibitors (IL-17).
  • Corticosteroids: Injectable corticosteroids temporarily ease joint pain and inflammation.
  • Surgery: A small number of people with ankylosing spondylitis may need surgery. Joint replacement surgery implants an artificial joint. Kyphoplasty corrects a curved spine.

What other steps can I take to manage or treat ankylosing spondylitis (AS)?

In addition to standard AS treatments, these steps may also help ease inflammation and pain:

  • Eat a nutritious diet: Fried foods, processed meats and foods high in fat and sugar can have an inflammatory effect. Anti-inflammatory diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help fight inflammation.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity and excess weight puts pressure on joints and bones.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking too much alcohol can weaken bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Stop smoking: Tobacco use accelerates spinal damage and intensifies pain. Your provider can help you quit smoking.

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