Living with ankylosing spondylitis – a form of arthritis

It’s a common misunderstanding that arthritis only affects older Canadians. In fact, arthritis can affect many different age groups – and there are many different forms of the disease. One form of the disease, called ankylosing spondylitis (AS), is a chronic inflammatory form of arthritis that mainly affects the spinal joints.

According to the Arthritis Society, it typically affects young people, beginning between the ages of 15 and 30. If left untreated, it can eventually cause the affected spinal bones to fuse together.

Kathy Hall believes she has had AS since she was in her teens, but was not diagnosed until she was in her late 30s. Traditionally considered ‘a man’s disease’, it can take longer for women to be diagnosed than men.

“Because I was a teenage girl when this all started, my doctor didn’t consider AS as a possibility and my family didn’t think it was anything more than growing pains,” says Hall. “When I experienced my first full blown flare 20 years ago, there was no visible damage to my sacroiliac joint in my x-rays. It was 10 years later, when my sacroiliac joint had started to fuse, that I finally received a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. It was a relief.”

Typical symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis include lower back pain and stiffness. These symptoms may improve after movement, exercise, or a hot shower. Other symptoms include pain and inflammation in the neck, hips, knees, or ankles; difficulty expanding the chest; and fatigue. Other parts of the body can also be affected.

While there is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and may help to limit damage to the spine and other joints.

“The good news is that with proper treatment, AS doesn’t have to be debilitating,” says Hall. “It’s about taking control of the disease. Not only is it important to work with a rheumatologist to find the right treatment options for you and decrease inflammation, but it’s also important to exercise and learn proper relaxation techniques. Living with AS, or any form of arthritis, often requires lifestyle changes in combination with medicine-based treatment. My credo is that there are no limitations to what I can do; I just might have to be creative as to how I go about it.”

– News Canada