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Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a painful progressive inflammatory arthritis. It mainly affects the spine, but other joints, tendons, ligaments and organs such as the eyes, skin and heart may also be involved. 

AS is part of a larger group of related disorders called spondyloarthropathies. This includes Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis, Arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease and an undifferentiated arthritis. These conditions have many similarities to AS, but differ in some presentations.

The affects of AS vary from one person to the next. The spine is usually most affected, especially the neck and lower back, with the initial onset often in the sacroiliac joints. Restricted, painful movement is common.

Common symptoms include:

- Gradual onset of back pain and stiffness over weeks or months (often in the
  lower back, buttocks and/or legs) 
- Interrupted sleep, especially in the early hours of the morning, due to back
  pain and stiffness.
- Early morning stiffness and pain, which improves with movement during
  the day.
- Worsening stiffness and pain after rest.
- Persistence of stiffness and pain for more than 3 months
- Fatigue

Other symptoms may include weight loss (in the early stages), fever and night sweats.

The symptoms of AS often become apparent in the late teens and twenties. Men, women and children can all have AS, however, it is slightly more common in males (2.5/1)

In the early stages of AS, most of the pain and stiffness is caused by inflammation. This is often acute, sharp, disabling pain – especially when walking, standing on one leg or rolling over in bed. This often makes it very difficult to move and many are frightened of hurting themselves more, so tend to rest and avoid movement. This only makes it worse, and makes the pain last longer. It is important to keep moving as much as possible and resume full activity as soon as possible.

Most people with AS experience episodic flares of spinal pain and a slow decline in spinal flexibility. Repeated bouts of inflammation can lead to bony changes in the spine and the tendons and ligaments which support it. This may lead to joining together of some of the vertebra – fusion of the spine.

In the later stages, limitation of spinal mobility is a greater symptom than the pain, and the pain that is felt is usually of a less severe and more chronic nature.

AS is different in all people. Some people have little or no fusion of their spine, even after many years of having AS, whereas others may have significant changes.

Last Updated (Friday, 24 September 2010 16:34)