What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

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Ankylosing Spondylitis: Ankylosing Spondylitis is a painful, progressive, rheumatic disease, mainly of the spine. It can also affect other joints, tendons and ligaments and other areas such as eyes and heart. Ankylosing means fusing together. Spondylitis indicates inflammation involving the joints of the spine. It is important to be aware that the entire fusing of the spine is not the norm. Many people will only have partial fusion, sometimes limited to the pelvic bones.

What Happens: The inflammatory process is at the site of a joint or where tendons and/or ligaments grow into bone. As a reaction to the inflammation, a small amount of bone erosion occurs. After the inflammation has subsided, a healing process takes place with the growth of new bone. After repeated attacks, this additional bone growth can surround a disc. Therefore, two vertebrae can become one by this merging process. The exercises we should be carrying out are designed to prevent or slow this process.

Cause: The cause is not yet known. However 96% of clinically diagnosed people in this country share the same genetic cell marker 'HLA B27' (Human Leucocyte Antigen B27). This is related to white blood cells and is quite different from red cell groups such as A, B, O and rhesus markers. There is evidence that an outside environmental process must be responsible for initiating the condition and its flare-ups. It could be that a normally quite harmless micro-organism, which would normally be dealt with by our immune system, sets up an adverse reaction after coming into contact with the B27 individual. In most cases this leads to inflammation of the sacroiliac joints and to different areas of the spine.

Who gets Ankylosing Spondylitis: The average age of onset is twenty-four years old and the sex distribution is two and a half males for every one female.

Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis: Typically affects YOUNG people (late teens and twenties) with GRADUAL onset of pain, with pain worse in the MORNING and improves with EXERCISE.