Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease that affects between 150,000 and 300,000 Canadians. It can manifest as chronic back pain that lasts longer than three months, and usually appears between the ages of 15 and 30.
The spine fuses together
When you have AS, your immune system gets confused and begins to “attack” the joints in the spine and cause inflammation. The inflammation normally starts at the base of the spine and spreads upwards. The body tries to repair itself, so it makes new bone and the spine then fuses together. This results in a painful, stiff back. And because of their brittleness, the vertebrae are more vulnerable to fractures.
It causes chronic lower back pain
While AS varies from individual to individual, the most common symptom is chronic lower back pain that comes and goes. It tends to be worse in the morning and gets better with exercise. The disease can also affect joints and tendons in other areas of the body such as the hips, shoulders, breastbone, and feet. AS can even cause inflammation of the eyes and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Early detection is important
Getting an early diagnosis and starting the right treatment can make a big difference in keeping the spine flexible. With appropriate medication, exercise, and joint protection, we can help to prevent severe and irreversible disability,” says Dr. Walter Maksymowych, Professor of Medicine, University of Alberta.
Could you have AS?
Take this 30-second quiz to find out if your chronic back pain could be caused by AS.
See your doctor
If you think you have AS, talk to your doctor. Make sure you mention any gastrointestinal issues or family history of IBD. Ask for a referral to an ophthalmologist (an eye specialist) if you have a painful, red eye; severe light sensitivity; or blurred vision.