You may think you know about all the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis, but there are a few that might surprise you. Here are the facts on these little-known symptoms.
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory disease and a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine. The name of this condition comes from the Greek words ‘ankylos,’ meaning stiffening of a joint, and ‘spondylo,’ meaning vertebra. This progressive arthritic condition can cause some of the vertebrae or bones in your spine to fuse together, which makes the spine less flexible and can lead to a stooped or hunched-over posture. AS may cause severe and chronic pain in patients that hampers their daily work and living. This disease affects more men than women, and is more commonly diagnosed in young men between the ages of 15-30. Although AS can affect women and children as well, their symptoms may vary from the usual symptoms seen in men suffering from the condition. Over 200,000 people in the United States have ankylosing spondylitis, and doctors have discovered that almost every patient carries a specific gene called HLA-B27.
The common symptoms associated with ankylosing spondylitis include frequent pain and stiffness in the lower back, areas of the neck, and hips. In addition, you may experience a loss of appetite and weight loss, mild fever, and some general discomfort during the early stages of the disease. But apart from these usual symptoms, people with ankylosing spondylitis may also experience some other symptoms that may take them by surprise. However, being informed is one of the best ways to deal with the symptoms of any disease; so here’s what you need to know about these lesser-known AS symptoms.
- Iritis or uveitis (inflammation of the iris): According to the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), approximately 40 percent of people who suffer from ankylosing spondylitis experience the symptom of eye inflammation at least once. Iritis is a condition that affects the iris of your eye. As the iris is a part of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, doctors sometimes refer to iritis as uveitis. This symptom of ankylosing spondylitis usually occurs in one of your eyes at a time, and can be of the acute or chronic type. Acute iritis means one which has a quick onset and can improve if treated without delay, while chronic iritis develops gradually and can last for months or even years. Other eye symptoms of AS may include watery eyes, blurred vision, pain in and around the eye, headache, and sensitivity to light. If you are experiencing any of these eye problems or notice any physical changes like redness in your eyes, seek help from a doctor immediately in order to avoid the worsening of this symptom.
- Chest pain: In people with ankylosing spondylitis, the joints where the spine and ribs meet, and where the ribs and the sternum (breastbone) meet no longer have the ability to expand like they used to. This occurs due to long-term inflammation and the buildup of scar tissue associated with the disease— in such cases, between the ribs and around the lungs. This results in patients experiencing severe chest pain, which may range from a crushing sensation of pain to pain while deep breathing. These can be even mistaken for serious cardiac conditions. In order to avoid the worsening of such symptoms, head to the doctor for an immediate evaluation of any chest pain that you experience.
- Heart disease: Although not very common, some people with ankylosing spondylitis develop heart problems owing to high levels of inflammation in the body. Dr. Susan Goodman, MD and a Rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, says, “One possible condition is chronic inflammation around the aortic valve. This is generally seen after years of the disease.” To prevent AS from affecting your heart, you should consult a doctor if you are suffering from the disease and are experiencing some discomfort in your chest. According to a study published in 2015 in theAmerican Journal of Medicine, patients of ankylosing spondylitis should go for imaging tests so that any signs of the heart getting affected can be detected early.