Diagnosing Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis generally affecting the spine, although it can also affect other joints. Over time, this inflammatory disease can cause the fusion of spinal vertebrae. As with any condition, an accurate diagnosis is needed for successful treatment. Diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis requires the services of a doctor well-versed in treating inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis does not have a specific cause, but it does tend to run in families. Those with the HLA-B27 gene are at greater risk of developing the disease, but many people with this gene are unaffected. Men have higher rates of ankylosing spondylitis than women.

Generally, ankylosing spondylitis occurs in the joint swelling where the lower vertebrae of the spine joins the ilium, or pelvic bone. Over time, the vertebrae in the spine start fusing together, which is formerly known as ankylosis.

When the condition becomes severe, new bone develops as an attempt by the body to heal itself. There is usually heat, swelling, and redness accompanying the pain of the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition may affect the shoulders, arms, knees, feet, ribs, hips, eyes and bowels. Eventually, this newly formed bone moves between vertebrae, resulting in fusion. Once that occurs, the affected parts of the spine lose their flexibility. If the fusion occurs in the rib cage, it can threaten lung function.

Common Symptoms Sufferers Experience

Most patients diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis begin developing symptoms between their late teens to mid-40s, although younger and older people may also be affected. Symptoms may vary according to the individual, but often include:

  • Stiffness and pain in the buttocks and lower back
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Appetite loss
  • Bowel inflammation
  • Eye inflammation, or uveitis
  • Compression fractures

Pain may get worse over a period of weeks or months until it becomes chronic. Over time, the pain may spread to other parts of the body. In women, the pain may initiate in the neck rather than the buttocks or lower back. Pain is generally worse in the morning and may cause sufferers to wake in the middle of the night. If untreated, ankylosing spondylitis can lead to heart disease, as inflammation may spread to the aorta.

Receiving a Diagnosis

Along with taking a complete medical history, the doctor performs a thorough physical exam, which includes bending in various directions to determine the spine’s range of motion. Deep breaths can indicate whether the inflammation has spread to the chest. The doctor will usually have X-rays taken to examine joints and bones, as well as an MRI to take a good look at the soft tissues.

A blood test should reveal whether the patient carries the HLA-B27 gene, which may aid in diagnosis. Blood tests also show inflammation levels in the body. Finally, the pattern of pain symptoms also helps the doctor with diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis.

Talking to a Doctor About Diagnosing Ankylosing Spondylitis

If you or a loved one suspects you are suffering from the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis, do not wait to receive treatment. These symptoms can get worse over time, especially when left untreated. A skilled doctor can perform necessary tests to take the necessary steps for diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis. They can then help you create a treatment plan to minimize the effects of the condition.