Friday, March 13, 2009

Med Info : Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis
Also known as:  Rheumatoid spondylitis or Marie-Strumpell disease
What is it?
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a disease of the connective tissue that results in the inflammation of the joints in the spine. The word "ankylosing" refers to a condition where the bones of a joint are fused, stiff, or rigid. "Spondylitis" is an inflammation of the spine.
Who gets it?
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is found in less than 1% of the population. It is three times more likely to occur in men than in women, with symptoms usually occurring for the first time between the ages of 20 and 40. People with a parent or sibling with AS are more likely to have the disorder. Afro-Americans have an approximately 25% higher incidence of AS than Caucasians.
What causes it?
The exact cause of AS is unknown. However, the fact that the disease tends to run in families makes genetics a likely factor. Researchers have identified a gene called HLA-B27 in more than 90% of patients with AS. However, the presence of this gene doesn't guarantee AS. Only around 10 to 15% of people who inherit the gene actually develop this disease.
What are the symptoms?
Like most forms of arthritis, AS flares up, so patients may have periods with no symptoms alternating with periods of mild to moderate symptoms. The most common symptom is back pain. Pain is often worse at night, and stiffness is worse upon waking in the morning. The pain and stiffness in the back can progress to the chest and neck. Patients may find that the pain is relieved by bending forward, which is why people with AS often have a stooped appearance. Eventually, the bones in the back may fuse. In some, the back ends up curved and inflexible. This condition is called "bamboo spine."  In others, the back is straight and stiff. AS can also cause eye inflammation, damage to the heart valve, difficulty taking deep breaths, psoriasis, ileitis (inflammation of the small intestine), colitis (inflammation of the large intestine), fever, fatigue, and weight loss.
How is it diagnosed?
If your pattern of symptoms fits the description of AS, your doctor will order x-rays of the spine and pelvis. He or she will look for wear at the joint between the spine and the hip bone, and for abnormalities in the vertebrae. A simple blood test may also reveal the HLA-B27 gene. If AS is diagnosed, you will be referred to a rheumatologist, which is a doctor who specializes in treating arthritis.
What is the treatment?
Treatment of AS is focused on relieving pain and restoring mobility. Drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are prescribed to relieve pain and stiffness. Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid drugs to treat severe joint and eye inflammation. Corticosteroids are only prescribed for short-term use because of potential side effects. A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will help with breathing and posture, as well as to increase and maintain flexibility. A back brace may also be needed to keep the back straight. Surgery, performed by an orthopedic surgeon, is only considered in severe cases where the hip or knee joint is completely worn away or permanently bent. Alternative treatments, such as herbal remedies and acupuncture, have brought relief to some patients. Consult your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.
Self-care tips
While there is no known way to prevent AS, most patients lead full, productive lives with treatment to control and relieve symptoms.

This information has been designed as a comprehensive and quick reference guide written by our health care reviewers.  The health information written by our authors is intended to be a supplement to the care provided by your physician.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. '

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