Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)

A chronic condition of the spine

Our rheumatology and spinal consultants can help with the diagnosis and treatment of ankylosing spondylitis

What is ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a long-term condition that causes inflammation in the spine and other areas. It is more common in men, and mostly begins during your teens or early adulthood. It tends to develop gradually and symptoms, including a stiff or painful back, may come and go. It's not known what causes the condition, but it may be genetic.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis? icon plus

    If you have AS, the symptoms may vary. You are likely to experience some or all of the following:


    • pain or stiffness in the back
    • inflammation of the joints
    • fatigue
  • Diagnosing AS icon plus

    There’s no specific test that can diagnose ankylosing spondylitis. A good physical examination, including X-rays, individual medical history, and a family history of AS, as well as blood tests (including a test for HLA-B27) are several factors in combination that are used to make a diagnosis.


    • Onset is usually under 40 years of age.
    • Pain is present for more than three months in most cases.
    • Back pain and stiffness worsen with immobility, especially at night and early morning.
    • Back pain and stiffness tend to ease with physical activity and exercise.

    Inflammation at the back of the pelvis is fairly typical of AS and can be picked up on a normal x-ray or MRI scan.

  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    There is no cure as such for ankylosing spondylitis, although your consultant may recommend physiotherapy or exercise to improve flexibility in the spine. You may also have pain relief and medication to control the inflammation.

    Sometimes surgery may be required, although this is unusual. If surgery is advised it is usually done to address ‘kyphosis’ – a curvature of the spine when viewed from the side. If the kyphosis is severe it can affect your ability to keep an upright posture to see where you are going or even limit your ability to interact with friends. This is due to being bent over forwards, you are unable to maintain eye contact . In this situation surgery can help to address this. The surgery is complex and can only be done by specially trained surgeons.

     

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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