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An Introduction to Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic, painful, progressive inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine and sacroiliac joints.

It is suspected that those who suffer from it are of a genetic predisposition. It causes the complete fusion of the spine, resulting in rigidity known as bamboo spine. Ankylosing spondylitis typically affects young men between the ages of 15-30 who show signs of chronic pain and stiffness in the lower part of the spine.

Other affected body parts are the hips, heart, lungs, heels and other peripheral areas. Males are affected three times more than women. Recurring mouth ulcers may also be experienced and fatigue is also a very common symptom.

Ankylosing spondylitis is diagnosed by x-ray studies of the spine. Unfortunately, by the time the signs and symptoms show in an x-ray, a patient has already had ankylosing spondylitis for about 8-10 years.

Tomography and magnetic resonance of the sacroiliac joints are now also used for a more accurate and earlier diagnosis.

There is no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis. However, treatments and medications are available to help reduce pain and symptoms in patients.

Physical therapy and exercise, along with medication, are the main forms of therapy. Physiotherapy and physical exercises are usually preceded by medical treatment in order to reduce the inflammation and pain, and then this is followed by a check up with a physician.

There are three main types of medications used to treat ankylosing spondylitis. One type is Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, indometacin, naproxen and COX-2 inhibitors.

These medications help reduce inflammation and pain. Another type of medication used to treat the disease is Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs.

These drugs are used to reduce the immune system response through immunosuppression. The last type of medication is Tumor Necrosis Factor (or TNF) receptors.

TNF blockers have been shown to be the most promising treatment in the disease, as they have been found to slow the process in most clinical cases and are highly effective in treating not only the arthritis of the joints but also the spinal arthritis associated with ankylosing spondylitis.

Surgery is an option in severe cases of ankylosing spondylitis, particularly in the form of joint replacements in the knees and hips.

Surgical correction is also possible for those with severe flexion deformities (or a downward curvature of the spine), but is considered risky.

A rheumatologist must approve physical therapy in advance since certain movements may have a detrimental effect on a patient.

Physical therapy should be practiced with a professional. Exercises that have helped patients include swimming, stretching, yoga, tai chi, jogging and Pilates.

If you have a family history of this disease, talk to your doctor to find out more information.


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