CHENNAI: Ankylsoing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis which affects the spine causing ankylosis (stiffening of joint or loss of mobility). The exact cause of this disease is unknown. But AS is an autoimmune disease where our body’s immune system is misdirected to attack its own organs.
One in 100 adults in India are diagnosed with AS. Around 50-60 lakh Indians suffer from AS. Many are still left undiagnosed and untreated.
It usually affects young men between 20-45 years of age. Close family members of patients with AS are also at a higher risk. The main symptom of AS is lower back pain. It is important to understand the difference between regular back pain and the back pain of AS.
Back pain of AS usually is severe at rest and it decreases with physical activity. It is more severe in the nights and is associated with a stiff back early in the morning which usually lasts more than 30 minutes. If someone has back pain similar to the above description they need to be screened for AS. It can also cause joint pains usually in the lower limbs. Heel pain, sole pain are also common. Untreated AS can also affect the eyes, heart, kidneys, bowels and also lead to weak bones or osteoporosis and ultimately fractures.
At present there is no cure for AS. But early treatment relieves symptoms and prevents rapid progression of disease. Many patients ignore the pain or are unaware that they need to consult a rheumatologist.
The first line of treatment are the pain killers. Steroids and conventional disease modifying drugs like methotrexate usually prescribed in rheumatoid arthritis have no proven role in relieving spinal symptoms of AS. Regular physiotherapy tailored to the patients’ needs also forms an integral part of the treatment.
The writer is a consultant rheumatologist at Parvathy Hospital, Chennai