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Ankylosing spondylitis (occasionally referred to as “AS”) is a type of arthritis in which chronic inflammation causes stiffness and pain in the spine. The name ankylosing spondylitis comes from the Greek words “ankylos,” meaning joint stiffening, and “spondylo,” meaning vertebra. In advanced cases, the bones of the spine can fuse together, causing stiffness and a hunched posture. In some patients, ankylosing spondylitis can affect joints beyond the spine, like the shoulders, ribs, hips, knees, and feet.

woman in striped shirt holding lower back in pain

Other Inflammatory Disorders

Ankylosing spondylitis belongs to a cluster of inflammatory disorders called spondyloarthritides. Other conditions in this group include psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis/Reiter’s syndrome, enteropathic arthritis, and enthesitis-related idiopathic juvenile arthritis.

These disorders have similarities, but they also have differences between them. The most obvious symptom of ankylosing spondylitis is inflammation of the sacroiliac (SI) joints, where the spine joins the pelvis.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic condition with periodic flare-ups followed by stretches of remission in which symptoms improve or ameliorate. Although there is no known cure for AS, it is not life-threatening, and treatments can be successful in decreasing the severity of the condition.

What Causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is unknown, but genes and environment seem to play a pivotal role. The majority of patients diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis are Caucasian males under the age of 45, but women can also be diagnosed with the condition. Most people with ankylosing spondylitis are genetically predisposed to the disease, and have a gene called HLA-B27. This does not guarantee a person will be diagnosed with AS; sometimes infections and intestinal bacteria can trigger the disease as well.

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