Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of chronic inflammation of the spine and sacroiliac joints, resulting in pain and stiffness in and around the spine, which leads to a complete fusion of the vertebrae - a process referred to as ankylosis. Genetics, environmental factors and a disturbed immunity are believed to be responsible for this disease. Pain, stiffness, fatigue, eye inflammation and multiple-joint inflammation are common symptoms of the disease. The heart, lungs and kidneys too can get affected because of this condition.

Most Common Symptoms

Onset of Symptoms

The onset of spondylitis symptoms is most common in young adults in their 20s and 30s, though older adults can also show early symptoms of AS. The occurrence of spondylitis symptoms in children is rare, but can strike children in their "tween" and teen years. Males are more likely to develop spondylitis than females. Early symptoms include dull pain that is intermittent, but gradually becomes more constant. Pain at night or during periods of rest is common in the early stages of the disease. Onset of AS often begins with hip pain, rather than back pain, but extends to the back over time.

Back Symptoms

Stiffness in the lower back area and a dull, aching sensation is consistent with early back symptoms of spondylitis. A person with this joint inflammation may feel discomfort in one side of his body, both at the same time, or the pain may hit alternate sides at times. The back may feel better when the person bends over, and sometimes leads to a permanent bad posture when walking and standing in an effort to contain the discomfort. Symptoms may subside after taking a warm bath or shower in the early stages, but often will not provide the same level of relief as the disease progresses.

Eye Inflammation

One of the seemingly unexpected symptoms of AS is a type of eye inflammation called iritis, or uveitis. The Spondylitis Association of America estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of people who have been diagnosed with spondylitis show symptoms of iritis. Usually only one eye is affected at any given time. The eye becomes red, watery and painful, and the person may become more sensitive to light. Vision may be affected as a result of the eye inflammation. The inflammation can be controlled by using corticosteroid eye drops, available by prescription only.

Relieving Symptoms

Anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken to relieve some of the symptoms of spondylitis. Early and more minor cases of the disease may be treated with over-the-counter medications such as ibprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen (commonly called NSAIDs). Symptoms that do not respond to OTC medications or that involve other areas of the body may require more potent drugs such as corticosteroids. Physical therapy and special exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the damaged joints may also help relieve painful symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis.

Treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis

There are no drugs in existence today which can slow or stop the condition. However, there are drugs called Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) which can help to control the inflammation and reduce the pain.

Also, daily exercise consisting of gentle stretching exercises or swimming can help to improve the movement of the spine and help to create a more positive posture. On top of this, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy can also help to relieve the symptoms.

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Quick Relief from Pain

Unfortunately, there are a small number of people suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis who will require hip replacements. Thankfully, those cases are few and far between.

Interestingly, the symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis can be present for a period of time and then they reduce significantly

Physical therapy for ankylosing spondylitis includes instructions and exercises to maintain a proper posture, deep breathing for lung expansion, and stretching exercises to improve spine and joint mobility. The use of a firm mattress without a pillow is advised in order to prevent spinal curvature. Swimming, aerobic exercises, yogic asanas and pranayam are encouraged. Patients are strongly discouraged from smoking. Modifications in day-to-day activities also need to be done in order to adjust to this disease.

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