What Is It?
Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that mainly affects the lower back. It causes inflammation and damage at the joints, and first affects the sacroiliac joints between the spine and the pelvis. It also can affect other areas of the spine and other joints, such as the knee. Eventually, inflamed spinal joints can become fused, or joined together so they can't move independently. The word spondylitis refers to inflammation of the spine; ankylosis means fusion or the melding of two bones into one.
Ankylosing spondylitis is relatively rare. It affects about 1 in 1,000 people. It may run in families, although its cause is not understood. It most commonly strikes otherwise healthy young men. Men get this condition 10 times more often than women. The disorder most often appears between the ages of 20 and 40, but can develop in children.
A person with ankylosing spondylitis commonly will feel pain or stiffness in the lower back, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity. Usually, back pain begins in the sacroiliac joint and works its way up the lower spine. Eventually, the disorder can affect the entire spine. People can have pain and tenderness in the thighs, hips and other joints of the torso. Knees and ankles can be inflamed as well, although it usually affects no more than three or four joints in the arms and legs.
One feature of ankylosing spondylitis is that stiffness often improves with activity. People who have this disorder may get worse if they do not exercise regularly. Back pain from many other causes tends to worsen with exercise.
As the spine and its supporting structures stiffen, a person may become bent over. Over time, the bones of the spine can fuse or grow together, causing an extremely stiff, rigid backbone called a poker spine. This may make it difficult to take a deep breath because the rigid spine and stiff joints between the ribs and breastbone make it difficult for the chest to expand. In rare cases, inflammation in the lungs or eyes cause shortness of breath, chest pain or reduced vision with red, painful eyes. The pain and rigidity in the lower back can cause problems walking. Almost any movement can become extremely painful.
Other possible symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis include:
Loss of appetite