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Ankylosing Spondylitis Explained

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Ankylosing Spondylitis is more than just a bad backache.
This form of arthritis is a genetically linked autoimmune disorder that occurs primarily in men and can result in permanent loss of mobility. The fusion along the spine can be debilitating and cause constant, sometimes intense back pain.
According to the National Institutes of Health,  ankylosing spondylitis most often begins onset in the late teens and early adulthood. Almost all symptoms of AS begin before age 45 and the condition is more common and more severe in men than in women.
The disease, also sometimes called rheumatoid spondylitis, causes swelling and inflammation of the vertebrae. This causes intense discomfort and continuing pain. In advanced stages, the disease can cause the vertebrae to fuse together, limiting mobility. In rare cases, ankylosing spondylitis will show up in other tendons and ligaments or other joints, but the regions most often affected are the spine and pelvis.
What are the Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis?
In the earliest stages, AS often appears to be little more than a stiff, aching back. The pain is usually most pronounced immediately after awakening or after being immobile for long periods of time. One of the first warning signs that a backache could be AS is if the pain eases with exercise. Most patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis find they have less pain and soreness when they exercise regularly and remain active.
Because the initial pain can be mistaken for a pulled muscle or other back strain, many undiagnosed patients try to rest their backs, leading to increased pain. During the initial onset of the disease, the pain may be localized to one side or the other and may come and go. Some patients also experience general malaise or discomfort, slight fever, and loss of appetite. Many patients also experience fatigue and symptoms in women may begin in the neck rather than lower back. Eventually, the pain becomes persistent. If lower back pain has continued for more than three months, doctors may test for AS.

How is Ankylosing Spondylitis Diagnosed?
For the initial diagnosis of AS, patients can expect to have a full series of back x-rays and bloodwork to check for the presence of a specific protein associated with the disease. Doctors will ask about family history, looking for evidence of other family members who may also have the disease, regardless of whether it has been diagnosed. Ankylosing spondylitis is believed to be genetically-linked and seems to be more pervasive in some families than in others.
How is AS Treated?
Currently, there is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but diet and exercise may help prevent a worsening of the condition. In addition, there is some suggestion that Omega-3 found in fish oils may help slow the progress of the disease.  The disease is primarily monitored by rheumatologists who will prescribe medications to help slow the onset of new symptoms and manage the pain associated with the disease.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a hereditary disease and not brought on by diet or exercise, but both can help control the disease’s progression and the pain it causes.

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