Agonizing Ankylosing Spondylitis is More Common in Young Men

Agonizing Ankylosing Spondylitis is more common in young men between 20 and 30 years of age than women; occurs in children as well.

For young people, less heard ailment Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is an emerging disturbance, but that is a stark reality: initially, victims develop symptoms such as low back pain and stiffness that lasts for more than 30 minutes and worsens in the morning or after prolonged inactivity.

Panacea lies in regular exercise before AS grips individual like a wasp with stiffened ligaments and muscles. Dr. Uma Kumar, states that such cases were burgeoning, and timely treatment can only stave off complications.

Patients with AS must exercise regularly because it helps to limit spinal deformity and maintain their spinal movement and flexibility, while also relieving the back pain. Swimming and deep breathing are the best exercises. In addition, a hot shower in the morning can help to ease the pain and stiffness. Patients should avoid smoking, eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.

AS is not curable, but it is completely treatable if detected early. Only 10% of patients have a severely disabling disease. With the help of the correct medication and lifestyle modification, approximately 80% people with AS remain completely independent or just minimally disabled in the long-term.

Ankylosing-Spondylitis

In an exclusive interview to InnoHEALTH magazine, Dr. Kumar traces the original meaning of the disease, and says the word Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is derived from the Greek words ankylosis meaning ‘stiffening’, spondylosis meaning ‘vertebra’, and – it means ‘inflammation’.

She answered several questions on the ailment.

Question: Can you please explain in detail AS?

AS is a chronic inflammatory type of spondyloarthritis (a broad term for all types of arthritis that affects the spine) that is further classified as an ‘axial spondyloarthritis’ because it affects the joints of the spine and pelvis (where the sacral bone attaches to the iliac bone on either side of the body). When spinal ligaments get inflamed at the point where they attach to the vertebrae, the ‘bone-making cells’ of the body get stimulated and start to grow bone within the ligaments, which results in the formation of bony bridges between adjoining vertebrae – this is what leads to a stiff back.

Question: Does it affect other parts of the body as well?

Sometimes, other joints of the body such as the ankle, knee, and hip may also be affected. AS is more common in young men between 20 and 30 years of age than women. It can occur in children as well. The prevalence of AS ranges from 0.8% to 1.8% in the general population.

Question: Are genetic and environmental factors linked to AS?

The exact cause of AS is unknown. However, there is a strong genetic predisposition and most patients with AS have the HLA B27 gene. About 6% to 8% of the Indian population has the HLA B27 gene and amongst them, those with a family history of AS in a first-degree relative have a 30% chance of developing the disease. However, only 2% of individuals with this gene actually develop the disease. It is hypothesized that some stimuli (e.g. environmental factors, gut microbiome) trigger AS development in genetically predisposed individuals. Moreover, AS can also develop in individuals without HLA B27. It is likely that there are some undiscovered genetic factors that could also be involved in its etiology.

Question: Whether Initial symptoms itself are alarming or not?

Initial symptoms may not appear alarming, but they can be serious. Patients with AS initially develop symptoms such as low back pain and stiffness that lasts for more than 30 minutes and worsens in the morning or after prolonged inactivity. They often find it difficult to turn on the bed during the latter part of the night and the pain sometimes wakes them up from sleep. Typically, the back pain improves with activity. Some of the tendons and ligaments of the body may also get inflamed (e.g. costochondritis & Achilles tendinitis).

Question: What are the other symptoms?

Other symptoms of AS are chest stiffness; pain in the neck, hip, shoulder, glutes (buttock) and heel; as well as arthritis of the knee, ankle, toes or fingers. About 30% of the patients may develop uveitis (painful red eye) and a similar number of patient’s long-standing disease may develop osteoporosis (thin weak bones). The lungs, heart (valves) and kidneys may also get affected.

Question: How can it be diagnosed accurately?

We do clinical diagnosis with imaging and genetic tests. AS is diagnosed based on a patient’s clinical profile and radiological (X-ray) investigations. Blood tests include genetic tests to detect the HLA B27 gene; and tests that detect raised erythrocyte sedimentation rates (ESR) and increased C-reactive protein (CRP) levels to help support the diagnosis. X-ray imaging cannot detect bone changes during the initial stages of the disease making early diagnosis difficult. However, MRI scans of the sacroiliac joints can be used to diagnose AS in the early stages, when the X-ray of this region still appears ‘normal’.

Question: Can treatment help to slow down or stop the progression of AS?

The aim of treatment is to relieve pain; slow down or stop disease progression, and maintain mobility of the spine. Medicines for AS include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), analgesics, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics (targeted therapy). NSAIDs provide pain relief and also retard the progression of AS and patients prescribed these medicines must take them regularly and NOT ‘as and when required’. DMARDs like methotrexate, sulphasalazine, and leflunomide are prescribed for patients with peripheral arthritis. Patients who do not respond well to these drugs may be prescribed biologics such as anti-TNF alpha agents and anti-IL-17 inhibitors, as long as they have not had TB or a similar significant illness in the past.

These biologics and other tools that help us assess the disease have made it possible for patients to lead an almost normal life. Oral or parenteral glucocorticoids have no role in the management of AS though intraarticular steroid injections may sometimes be needed.

Question: Is surgical intervention a solution?

Surgery is rarely required for correcting spinal deformity, though a hip or knee replacement surgery may be needed if there is significant joint damage.

Question: What should be a frequency for consulting doctors?

Regular follow-up with the doctor is extremely important to adjust the dose and to detect any drug adverse effects or any complication or comorbidity at the earliest.

Arthritis includes more than 100 different conditions that affect joints and the surrounding tissue. The most common form of arthritis in the United States is osteoarthritis, followed by gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms include pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling in or around the joints. Arthritis affects people of all ages, including children. Although the risk of developing arthritis increases with age, more than half of adults with arthritis are younger than 65. About 1 in 4 adults has arthritis in US.

According to Centers for Disease Control And Prevention in US, Arthritis affects about 1 in 4 adults in the United States; That’s 54 million men and women; As the US population ages & obesity increases, the number of adults with arthritis is expected to increase to 78 million by 2040; one-third of adults living in rural areas have Arthritis; over 1 in 2 adults with Arthritis in rural areas are limited by it; Arthritis is a leading cause of disability in the US. Twenty-four million adults report limitations due to Arthritis. And, the most common form of Arthritis in US is osteoarthritis.

People with arthritis can manage symptoms & reduce pain by learning self-management strategies and being physically active.

Prevention tips – Early diagnosis and appropriate management of arthritis, including self-management activities, can help people with the condition live well without pain. Everyone should exercise regularly to stay healthy, including people with Arthritis. Physical activity has been proven to reduce the pain and restore function. There are proven exercise programmes that can help people with arthritis increase their physical activity safely and comfortably. Maintaining a healthy weight has shown to decrease the risk of developing Osteoarthritis and gout and may decrease disease progression and arthritis-related activity limitations.

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