The human spine has 33 vertebrae. However, some conditions can fuse these vertebrae. Ankylosing Spondylitis is one such condition. This disease may also be known as AS or Bechterew's disease. It is an inflammatory disease that can make the spine less flexible by fusing the vertebrae of the lower back together. In some cases, it can also affect the rib cage and make it difficult to breathe. This disease typically affects more men as compared to women. Most patients begin showing symptoms in early adulthood.
Ankylosing Spondylitis affects the sacroiliac joints - These joints are located just above the tailbone. It causes inflammation of the spinal bones that in turn cause pain and stiffness. With time, this inflammation spreads to the entire spine and the vertebrae begin fusing together. This can make movement difficult and painful. In severe cases, it can also lead to the development of a hunchback. This disease also affects the other tissues of the body. For example, it can affect other joints and aggravate arthritis or affect organs such as the kidney, heart, lungs, and eyes.
A specific cause has not yet been identified for Ankylosing Spondylitis. However, studies show that genetic factors can be a trigger. In particular, the presence of the HLA-B27 gene increases a person’s risk of developing symptoms pertaining to this condition. However, it is important to note that merely the presence of this gene does not make Ankylosing Spondylitis inevitable. Other genes that are associated with this disease are ARTS1 and IL23R. These genes influence the functioning of the immune system. While it can affect people of all ages, adults are at a higher risk of suffering from this condition.
In many cases, the initial inflammation of the spine is due to a bacterial infection of microbial infection. Though the infection itself may be treated and cured, it may cause the immune system to react and trigger inflammation. Once activated, if the immune system cannot be turned off, this inflammation will continue and can trigger Ankylosing Spondylitis. In each case, the disease presents a unique pattern of progression.
There is presently no cure for this condition, but with an early diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms can be managed and progression can be slowed. This treatment usually takes the form of medication to relieve pain, inflammation and discomfort and physical therapy. Surgery cannot be used to treat Ankylosing Spondylitis but in cases where it has caused severe joint damage, surgery may be advised to replace the damaged joint.