Ankylosing spondylitis is a complex chronic disease that causes inflammation in the spine and other areas of the body. Symptoms of the condition develop gradually over months or years. Some individuals can eventually get better, while others find their condition deteriorates. Although patients are at risk of long-term disability, this can usually be prevented with exercise, physiotherapy and medication.
In around 70 to 90% of cases, independence is maintained and people only develop minimal disability. However, in some individuals, damage caused by inflammation in the spine and joints eventually causes severe disability and immobility.
Some examples of the complications associated with this disease are described below.
- Although most people with this condition do not develop long-term disability, around 40% of individuals will eventually find movement is restricted in their spine. This occurs because bones in the lower part of the spine fuse, leading to a fixed, inflexible posture. In very severe cases, surgery may be recommended to help resolve the problem.
- Osteoporosis can develop in the spine and other bones of the body, which are then prone to fracture. The risk of osteoporosis increases the longer a person has ankylosing spondylitis. A number of medications are available to help increase bone strength in those who develop osteoporosis.
- Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation in joints such as the hips and knees, which can eventually become damaged, making it difficult and painful to move. Again, surgery may be recommended to replace the joint in severe cases.
- People with ankylosing spondylitis are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular complications such as heart disease or stroke. People with this condition should therefore follow guidelines to help minimize their risk of cardiovascular disease. Some examples of lifestyle changes include stopping smoking, losing weight, dietary changes to lower blood pressure and engaging in regular physical activity.
- A condition called iritis or anterior uveitis can also develop, which causes one eye to become red, painful, swollen and sensitive to light. Vision may also become blurred. The condition can usually be treated using eye drops that contain a corticosteroid.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc