What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Also known as Bekhterev’s disease/syndrome and Marie-Strumpell disease, ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic, degenerative, inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune disease. It is a systemic disease, meaning that it affects the entire body. Ankylosing spondylitis onset is usually seen in men between 20-40yrs of age, and has a threefold incidence in men compared to women. Ankylosis means fusion of the spine, and spondylitis means inflammation of the spine; the condition often leads to a characteristic downward curvature of the spine making it difficult for sufferers to look upward.
There is a strong genetic component to disease development, with other predisposing factors, such as lifestyle and repeated gastrointestinal problems. Diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis is usually through case history, x-ray, MRI, or CT scans, and tests for autoantibodies and inflammation. The condition affects the joints in the spine primarily and can cause abnormal bone growth, ligament calcification, and fusion of the spine, with ramifications for mobility with back and neck pain. It usually begins insidiously by affecting the lumbar spinal region and creeping up into the cervical spine. Other inflammatory issues arise in the disease, including uveitis, iridocyclitis, and fibrosis of the apical lung.
Treatments are available to reduce the severity of symptoms and, perhaps, inhibit the progression and degeneration of ankylosing spondylitis. Medications such as NSAIDs, analgesics, and epidural injections may be appropriate for some sufferers, and, although spine surgery may assist patients, complications of the disease, such as respiratory issues, may prevent surgical intervention as a therapeutic course of action. The disease itself is incurable currently, with research ongoing into establishing the exact cause of the condition and ways in which it may be prevented, ameliorated, or reversed.
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