Even though I have yet to pronounce ankylosing spondylitis correctly -- much less say it three times fast -- at least now I have a grasp on what this disease is all about. Although not extremely popular in comparison to the likes of another arthritis family member -- rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing sponylitis is indeed a form of arthritis and effects about a half million people in the United States in a very debilitating way. Shockingly, AS strikes more people than Lou Gherig’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined. That’s a scary fact to keep in the back of your mind.
This particular type of chronic arthritis primarily attacks the spine, although in rare cases can effect other parts of the body, including your eyes. In addition to your eyes and spine, AS can attack your hips, ribs, heels, small joints in your hands and feet, and lungs.
Everyones' body can react differently to ankylosing spondylitis, even within the family. For this particular form of arthritis, genetics plays a much bigger role and quite possibly the main reason for having AS. Besides genetics, there is a general unknown for the cause of it. Research indicates a correlation with gastrointestinal infections and in some cases have been treated as a gastrointestinal infection such as celiac’s disease, IBS or colitis. It has been documented that a starch-free diet for AS has not cured, but has in fact limited symptoms. Unfortunately there is no cure to go with the unknown cause, but one thing is for sure –- it can turn a good day bad.
Ankylosing spondylitis primarily strikes your spine in periodic “flare ups” that can last for long periods of time leave you stiff and in severe pain and discomfort. Sponsylitis causes inflammation of the spinal joints and in some advanced cases, can cause these spinal joints to fuse in a fixed and immobile position leaving you in a “frozen” state. These debilitating “flare ups” can potentially leave you disabled with no other choice, but surgery to restore mobility.
As painful as this disease can be, fatigue is the toughest symptom AS patients must cope with. As silly as this seems, it’s the truth. Since AS is inflammation in your spine, your body works extremely hard to minimize the swelling in your joints, leaving you exhausted and fatigued. In addition to your body working hard, those with AS usually don’t get a good night sleep since most symptoms act up during the night, leaving you staring at walls through the wee hours of the night.
It is important to keep in mind that ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic, life long disease and needs to be treated as such. It is imperative to see your rheumatologist at least once a year to make sure you are on the right treatment path in order to have the most active lifestyle possible. With this in mind, check back Wednesday with tips on a healthy (semi) starch-free diet and a few ideas to keep you active and living a normal lifestyle with AS.