Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Anna Simon, Ellen M. Martin

Autoimmune disease is an “invisible epidemic.” Despite affecting roughly 16% of the US population, autoimmunity remains under-recognized, under-researched and under-served. To combat this lack of awareness, and to connect patients, families, and caregivers with useful resources, we at Your Autoimmunity Connection are publishing a series of “spotlights” on autoimmune diseases or other diseases that are closely linked to immune dysfunction.

Our next spotlight shines on ankylosing spondylitis. Continue reading to become connected with available statistics, research initiatives, supportive patient communities, and more! Be sure to check out our Facebook page and forum for more autoimmune-related updates.

What is ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of systemic inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine, especially the lower (lumbar) vertebrae and the sacroiliac joints. Over time, inflammation of the entheses (connective tissue) of the spine leads to scarring of this tissue and eventually the formation of extra bone. This can lead to less spinal flexibility and a hunched posture. Symptoms include chronic pain, stiffness in the back and hips, and fatigue. Eye inflammation is common – symptoms include pain, blurred vision, and light sensitivity. Chest, rib, hip, heel, and shoulder pain are also common, since, as a systemic condition, many parts of the body can be affected. As with most immunological diseases, the course of AS is highly variable, not only from person to person but within individual patients symptom flares and periods of remission are typical.

How is ankylosing spondylitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis begins with a physical exam, where your doctor will test the range of motion of your spine. Diagnosis is primarily done by a rheumatologist through imaging tests:  X-rays can show changes in joints and bones, and MRIs can show more detailed images of affected areas.

How is ankylosing spondylitis treated?

Treatment for this disease aims to relieve pain and stiffness and prevent further complications. Physical therapy can help with flexibility in the spine and overall posture. However, drugs may be necessary to treat symptoms: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve inflammation, pain, and stiffness; Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers can relieve pain, stiffness, and swollen or tender joints and steroid injections are sometimes used.

What do the numbers show?

Current available ankylosing spondylitis statistics estimate that…

  • An estimated 1 in 2,000 people suffer from AS.
  • Symptoms most commonly emerge in patients between the ages of 15 to 25.
  • Men are affected more than women.
  • Genetic marker HLA-B27 may predispose you to spondylitis.

While the Spondylitis Association of America, along with other leading organizations, work toward reevaluating the current state of care for ankylosing spondylitis and raising awareness, our team at Your Autoimmunity Connection is connecting patients both with one another and with currently available resources.

Connecting you with resources

Brush up on the basics

While some of you may already have some background knowledge about ankylosing spondylitis, let’s take a moment to review the basics. The following pages provide a comprehensive overview of ankylosing spondylitis:

  • Spondylitis Association of America: Overview of Ankylosing Spondylitis
    • Read about symptoms, diagnosis, risk factors, causes, and more.
  • National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society: Resources
    • Check out these various patient guides, from managing your flares to reducing fatigue.
  • Mayo Clinic: Ankylosing Spondylitis
    • Learn more about complications, medications, and lifestyle remedies.
  • Medical News Today: All About Ankylosing Spondylitis
    • Explore an interactive 3-D model of what spondylitis looks like in the body.

For anyone affected – Find your patient community

What’s happening in research?

What is one thing everyone should know about ankylosing spondylitis?

When looking at the big picture, we must remember that ankylosing spondylitis falls within the larger category of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases of which there are more than 100 individual diagnoses. In our research, we have found that 50 million Americans suffer from one or more autoimmune diseases. A research study further estimated that approximately 25% of patients with autoimmune diseases have a tendency to develop additional autoimmune diseases.¹

We hope our spotlight on ankylosing spondylitis connects you with beneficial resources and information. We believe it is essential to take a holistic approach to combat the autoimmune disease epidemic. By looking at all autoimmune and similar diseases together, we can move away from the fragmented view that hides the magnitude of the problem and head toward concerted action in reshaping research, diagnosis, and treatment. Our model is based on the revolution in cancer research and treatment over the past 50 years, made possible by viewing cancer as a group of diseases with a common foundation, thus garnering far more resources than had been devoted to individual types of cancer alone. Help us bring this revolution to autoimmunity!

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[1] Cojocaru, M, Inimioara Mihaela Cojocaru, and Isabela Silosi. “Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome.” Mædica 5.2 (2010): 132–134. Print.

2 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this information. I’ve just recently been diagnosed with AS. Trying to learn I all I can!

  2. I was first diagnosed in the mid-1980s–symptomatic long before that. It wasn’t until the first temporarily blinding episode with iritis that an ophthalmologist who’d worked with AS patients recognized what might be going on and referred me to a rheumatologist.
    I know how challenging it can be. Frustrating, too, how even doctors/specialists today don’t always agree on how to diagnose & treat it, especially when it’s early stage or atypical presentation/progression. (Or if you’re female — still a lot of doctors who don’t think women can get AS.) When co-conditions run with it in a pack, it’s even more difficult.
    Kudos for sharing this information!

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