At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Spondylitis, which is also known as ankylosing spondylitis, is an arthritic condition that directly affects the spine. It causes chronic pain and general discomfort in the upper and lower back. Patients also frequently experience an overall feeling of stiffness in the back, and eventually, they may lose some mobility. Ankylosing spondylitis always starts with the spine, but over time, it can spread to different organ systems throughout the body, leading to a host of different symptoms.
As ankylosing spondylitis progresses, symptoms can gradually worsen. In the beginning, patients will experience pain and stiffness, especially in the lower part of their spine near the buttocks. Eventually, the pain may start to spread to the upper areas of the spine and other joints in the body, such as the hips. When the disease becomes advanced, patients may find that their spine is inflexible and they may start losing weight or suffering from chronic fatigue.
Like other forms of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory disorder. This inflammation can cause the body’s immune system to react as though there has been some kind of injury, and a new bone may start to grow in the spinal column. This bone can eventually lead to an overall immobilization of the spine. This condition is called spinal fusion, and it’s not very common, but it’s a real possibility if the disorder isn’t treated.
Most scientists agree that ankylosing spondylitis is inherited genetically. There is one particular gene called HLA-B27 that has been directly associated with the disorder. Even though there is definitely a correlation between the gene and the disease, many people have the gene and never develop the condition, so some scientists suspect there are other factors involved as well.
Other than the genetic connection, there are a few other things that raise a person's risk. Men have a greater chance of getting the disease than women, especially when they are between 20 and 30 years of age. Native Americans also have a slightly greater chance of developing ankylosing spondylitis compared to other races.
Ankylosing spondylitis cannot be cured, but there are a few treatments available that can help to reduce discomfort and lessen the chance of serious complications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be useful in dealing with pain and reducing inflammation. As symptoms advance, more serious drugs may be prescribed. Some doctors also recommend physical therapy to help maintain basic mobility in the spine. In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery, but this is not very common.