Ankylosing Spondylitis (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
Ankylosing spondylitis is inflammation primarily of the joints of the spine. But it can also involve inflammation of the eye, other joints—especially those in the hips, chest wall, and around the heels—and, on occasion, the shoulders, wrists, hands, knees, ankles, and feet. Although it is unusual, ankylosing spondylitis can also cause changes such as thickening of the major artery (aorta) and the valve in the heart called the aortic valve.
If the inflammation continues over time, it will lead to scarring and permanent damage. In some people the disease is mild and progresses slowly, and symptoms may never become severe. Other people may have a more aggressive disease process.
Whether ankylosing spondylitis gets worse depends on a number of things such as how old you were when the disease began, how early it was diagnosed, and what joints are involved. It's too early to tell yet, but experts hope that early treatment with newer medicines will slow or minimize the inflammation, prevent scarring, and limit the progression of the disease.
Mild or early ankylosing spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis usually starts with dull pain in the low back and back stiffness. Some people with ankylosing spondylitis have "flares" of increased pain and stiffness that may last for several weeks before decreasing again.
Severe or advanced ankylosing spondylitis
If, over time, the inflammation continues, it will lead to scarring and permanent damage.
The stiffening of the chest can feel like the discomfort or "heaviness" of a heart attack. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause the heart to work less efficiently.
If you have any symptoms of heart or lung problems—including heaviness of the chest or pain with deep breathing—talk to a doctor right away to make sure you don't have any serious heart or lung problems. For more information on heart and lung problems, see the topics Heart Attack and Unstable Angina and Pleurisy.
Ankylosing spondylitis is one disease in a group of joint diseases called the spondyloarthropathies (say "spon-dill-o-ar-THROP-a-thees"). These include psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis (Reiter's syndrome), and enteropathic arthritis (joint problems linked with inflammatory bowel disease). Although inflammation of the spine also occurs in these other conditions, it is less common and less severe than the inflammation that occurs in ankylosing spondylitis.
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