Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that affects one in every 100 Canadians. It tends to strike younger people, and most commonly appears between the ages of 15 and 40. Men are more frequently affected than women.
AS causes pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the spine, and may also affect other joints such as the hips, shoulders, or knees. Other AS symptoms include stiff or bent-over posture and difficulty moving around or turning the head. Many people find that their symptoms are worst in the morning or when they haven't been active in a while. Symptoms usually come and go. Sufferers may have flare-ups of symptoms followed by periods of time without symptoms. And AS doesn't just affect the joints - it can also cause eye pain or irritation, heart valve damage, an inflamed aorta (the blood vessel that transports blood from the heart to the rest of the body), or damage to the nerves around the spinal cord.
Scientists don't know exactly what causes AS. However, both genetic factors and factors in the environment, such as infections, are believed to be involved. These factors trigger the immune system to start attacking the joints, leading to pain, inflammation, and stiffness. Your doctor can diagnose AS by asking about your symptoms and taking an X-ray. Blood tests may also be used for the diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for AS. But AS can be managed with a combination of medication, physiotherapy, and surgery. Read David's story in "Finding a treatment for AS that works for you" to hear about how David manages his AS.
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