How Serious Is Ankylosing Spondylitis & Does Ankylosing Spondylitis Reduce Life Expectancy?

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?(1,7)

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of inflammatory and chronic arthritis affecting the spine primarily.(1) Ankylosing spondylitis often starts to develop in the age of 20s to 30s and is characterized by constant stiffness and low back pain(2) The cause of the pain in ankylosing spondylitis is sacroiliac joints inflammation, which slowly spreads upwards in the spine towards other joints resulting in fusion of vertebrae. This stage of ankylosing spondylitis greatly impairs the patient’s mobility and movements and causes acute pain.

How Serious Is Ankylosing Spondylitis & What is its Progression Like?(5)

The progression of ankylosing spondylitis differs from patient to patient; however, the results are usually better than patients suffering from other types of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Some patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis experience only mild symptoms and their disease remains in the early stages with the symptoms, such as stiffness and pain coming and receding. Patients suffering from this type of mild ankylosing spondylitis often have their almost complete functional capacity in their movements.

Ankylosing spondylitis gradually worsens in other patients with the symptoms increasing in severity and duration. Such patients develop a progressive and chronic type of ankylosing spondylitis and this can lead to disability because of spinal fusion from the AS inflammation and this type of ankylosing spondylitis can be serious.

As ankylosing spondylitis becomes even worse, other parts of the body suffer from inflammation including shoulders, neck , arms, ribs, knees, hips, feet; eyes (uveitis/iritis), and bowel (colitis/IBS). Some of the patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis also develop osteoporosis. Damage to the lung tissue and heart valves occurs from inflammation resulting from ankylosing spondylitis in rare cases.(1)

Patients suffering from chronic ankylosing spondylitis suffering from fusion of vertebrae are at increased risk for fracture of the spine after any accident or a fall. Spinal fractures can lead to nerve damage, which is why the patient should be on the lookout from any type of new weakness or tingling sensation in the arms and legs after any accident. Majority of the loss of function occurs during the first decade of ankylosing spondylitis. Around 1% of patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis can have long-term remission.

Things That Indicate Ankylosing Spondylitis Can Become a Serious Problem

Your physician cannot pinpoint the exact course of your ankylosing spondylitis; however, there are some signs that will indicate the development of more severe form of ankylosing spondylitis. For example, the younger the patient is when developing ankylosing spondylitis, the more are the chances that this disease will worsen or get to the severe stage rapidly. This particularly occurs in children and teens that develop ankylosing spondylitis.

Some of the common signs that indicate worsening, progression and poor prognosis of ankylosing spondylitis are:

  • If the pain is not controlled with NSAIDs.
  • If the ankylosing spondylitis affects the hips.
  • If the patient is a smoker.
  • If there is restricted mobility in the lower/lumbar spine.
  • The presence of other diseases, such as IBD or psoriasis.
  • Elevation of the ESR test.

Ankylosing Spondylitis in Men and Women

Ankylosing spondylitis seems to affect men and women equally; however, men are at increased risk for developing severe type of ankylosing spondylitis when compared to women. Whereas, women suffering from ankylosing spondylitis are more prone to depression when compared to men.(4)

What Can Be Done For Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Physical activity and stretching are beneficial in relieving the pain of ankylosing spondylitis and enhancing the patient’s ability to do daily activities of living.(2)

Many of the patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis can continue to work even after the development of ankylosing spondylitis symptoms. However, patients may need to undergo vocational counseling to help adjust to the present abilities of the patient. If there is rapid progression of the disease, then the patients need to be in a job that is less physically demanding.

There are some studies that show that NSAIDs can delay the worsening of ankylosing spondylitis in some patients; however, more research is required on this.(2,3)

Does Ankylosing Spondylitis Reduce Life Expectancy?(6)

No, ankylosing spondylitis does not reduce life expectancy as such, except in cases where there are complications or if the patient suffers from a severe type of ankylosing spondylitis.(8) Patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis have the same life expectancy as that of other people, except in cases mentioned above.

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