Ankylosing Spondylitis (Marie-Strumpell Disease)

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a systemic condition in which the joints and ligaments of the back become inflamed and eventually fuse.

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Symptoms

AS causes stiffness, usually starting in the lower back. Over time it may spread into the upper spine, causing joints and bones to become fused. This makes the spine rigid.

About a third of all persons with AS may have symptoms that affect other parts of the body besides the joints and ligaments, including ones affecting the heart and blood vessels.


Causes and Risk Factors

This condition tends to be inherited. It most commonly occurs in men between the ages of 16 and 30, but can also occur in women.

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Diagnosis

Some blood tests can help identify that the symptoms are those of AS. MRI is currently used to diagnose the condition. Some changes caused by AS only begin appearing over a period of 10 years or so.

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Treatments

The earlier AS is treated, the better. Once joints fuse (become joined together and rigid), mobility won't completely return even with treatment. Drugs may relieve the pain it causes.

Usually, AS is treated with:

  • Physical therapy - This treatment helps reduce pain and stiffness and help preserve back mobility
  • Drug therapy - This includes over-the-counter drugs that relieve pain (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and piroxicam). It can also include drugs that modify rheumatic diseases (such as sulfasalazine and methotrexate and corticosteroids like prednisone. Researchers are also looking at promising, new drugs, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers etanercept and infliximab.