Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis characterized by chronic inflammation that primarily affects the spine. Symptoms of this lifelong condition usually begin in early adulthood and include pain and stiffness in the lower back that worsen following rest or inactivity. As the disease progresses, the bones of the spine may fuse, causing limited range of motion and decreased flexibility of the spine.

Besides the spine, ankylosing spondylitis may affect other joints, including the hips, knees, ankles, or shoulders. The disease may also be associated with systemic effects, such as fever, fatigue, eye, or bowel inflammation. 

While there is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, physical therapy and various medications can ease symptoms and help prevent spinal complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is ankylosing spondylitis an autoimmune disease?

    Yes, ankylosing spondylitis is an autoimmune disease. This means that a person's immune system misguidedly attacks their joints (primarily in the spine) causing chronic inflammation. Organs, like the eyes or intestines, may also be attacked and damaged in ankylosing spondylitis.

  • What causes ankylosing spondylitis?

    Researchers do not know the precise cause of ankylosing spondylitis. It appears that certain environmental factors (for example, exposures to infections or toxins) trigger the disease in genetically susceptible individuals.

  • How is ankylosing spondylitis diagnosed?

    There is no single test that can diagnose ankylosing spondylitis. Rather, a doctor makes the diagnosis by reviewing a patient's symptoms, performing a physical examination, and using imaging tests (X-rays). Blood tests may also be ordered to support the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis and rule out alternative diagnoses.

  • How to treat ankylosing spondylitis?

    Ankylosing spondylitis is a lifelong condition that is not curable. However, through a combination of physical therapy and medication, symptoms of the disease, like pain and stiffness, can be soothed and daily functioning can be optimized.

Key Terms

A skeleton of the pelvis, sacrum, lumbar spine, hip joints and femur bones.
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Page Sources
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  1. Wenker KJ, Quint JM. Ankylosing Spondylitis. In: StatPearls. Updated November 14, 2018.

  2. Moon KH, Kim YT. Medical Treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis. Hip Pelvis. 2014;26(3):129–135. doi:10.5371/hp.2014.26.3.129

  3. Ankylosing Spondylitis. University of Maryland Medical Center.

Additional Reading