Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that usually develops in teenagers and young adults. It causes pain and stiffness in the back and other joints.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is inflammation of your spine and other joints that causes pain, stiffness and swelling. It's a form of arthritis, but unlike osteoarthritis or spondylosis, which are caused by wear and tear as we age, ankylosing spondylitis usually affects younger people. In ankylosing spondylitis, your back, neck, hips or knees may slowly become less flexible, and in severe cases bones in your lower back may fuse together (ankylosis).

How to tell if you have ankylosing spondylitis

The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness in your lower back and buttocks. You might also notice pain or swelling in your joints, including your knees and hips.

Other symptoms can include:

You may find that your symptoms are worse:

  • After resting or sitting
  • At night
  • On waking up

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for ankylosing spondylitis

See your GP if you have pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints that:

  • Has lasted for three months or more
  • Improves with exercise, but not with rest
  • Is affecting your sleep

Your GP may refer you to a rheumatologist (specialist in muscles and joints).

Getting an accurate diagnosis for ankylosing spondylitis can take time as it can develop slowly and there’s no single test for it. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and may arrange blood tests or X-ray to check for inflammation of your spine and joints. They may also test for a specific gene that most people with ankylosing spondylitis carry.

Causes of ankylosing spondylitis

The cause of ankylosing spondylitis isn't known, but these factors may increase risk:

  • Age – ankylosing spondylitis usually begins in the late teens or early 20s
  • Family history – if your parent, brother or sister have or had ankylosing spondylitis, you're around three times more likely to develop it than if no family member has it
  • Gender – ankylosing spondylitis is three times more common in men than women
  • Genetic – more than nine in ten people carry a gene called HLA-B27, which doesn't directly cause the condition but makes you more likely to develop it

Common treatments for ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis can't be cured, but there are treatments that can make a difference. Exercising regularly is important and taking painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs for flare-ups can help. Other treatments for ankylosing spondylitis depend on the severity and affected joints and might include:

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