What to Expect From an Ankylosing Spondylitis Specialist

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis marked by chronic inflammation. It primarily affects the spine but can cause symptoms in the ribs, shoulders, feet, knees, hips, bowels, and eyes over time. In rare cases, it can also affect the heart or lungs. AS can be a progressive condition that requires ongoing treatment by a specialist, such as a rheumatologist.

This article discusses the rheumatologist's role in treating ankylosing spondylitis—why seeing a specialist is important, how to prepare and what to expect during your first appointment, and how to find a healthcare provider.

Woman at rheumatologist
BSIP/Getty Images

What Is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is a healthcare provider with several years of additional training in diagnosing and treating autoimmune and musculoskeletal conditions. In addition, rheumatologists are required to pass a board exam for certification in their specialty.

Why See a Specialist?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a complex condition to recognize and treat, and a correct diagnosis can take many years. This condition typically starts to cause problems in adolescence or early adulthood, with initial symptoms of back pain and stiffness.

It can take a while for a person to realize that their symptoms aren't going away. In addition, the damage caused by this condition often doesn't show up on X-rays until it has progressed to later stages.

Seeing a specialist for your AS can ensure you get the proper treatment for the best outcome. Primary healthcare providers are trained to recognize a wide variety of health conditions—their knowledge is broad. Specialists focus on specific conditions or parts of the body and have a deeper understanding of that area.

Seeing a rheumatologist for your AS in earlier stages of the condition can help prevent permanent joint damage.

How to Prepare for Your Visit

When preparing for your rheumatology appointment, make sure your specialist has access to your medical records, including any blood tests or imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-rays, or bring this information with you. In addition, you should bring a list of current medications (names of the drugs and the dosage) and any information about past treatments for your condition.

Other important information to bring to your appointment includes your family medical history and a list of previous surgeries or other medical conditions you have.

Bring a list of questions you'd like to ask the rheumatologist or use this doctor discussion guide.

What to Expect

At your first rheumatology appointment, your healthcare provider will ask questions about your symptoms, such as what makes your pain better or worse. They will review your medical history and your family's medical history, as ankylosing spondylitis can run in families. The specialist will want to know what treatments you've tried for your condition and whether or not they have helped your symptoms.

A physical exam will be performed, including assessing your range of motion. Additional tests might be performed, such as an X-ray or blood work.

At the end of your session, the specialist will present a treatment plan and discuss next steps, including additional tests that may be required or medications that will be prescribed.

You might also be referred to other healthcare providers, such as a physical therapist, to help address your joint pain, stiffness, and functional limitations.

How to Find a Qualified Specialist

Talk to your primary healthcare provider for recommendations on finding a rheumatologist. Oftentimes, if you see a specialist in the same healthcare system, they will have full access to your medical records and test results electronically.

You can also find a rheumatologist through the American College of Rheumatology.

Summary

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory arthritis that causes progressive pain and joint stiffness. A rheumatologist is a specialist who treats and diagnoses conditions such as AS. Your first appointment will include a review of your medical history, symptoms, previous treatments, medications, and results of imaging tests and blood work. Your rheumatologist might order additional tests or make referrals to other healthcare providers as part of your treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but a rheumatologist can help you manage your symptoms to improve your quality of life. Follow your specialist's instructions and take your medications as prescribed for the best outcome. In some cases, treatment can help prevent permanent joint damage from occurring.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you find a qualified specialist for ankylosing spondylitis?

    Talk to your primary healthcare provider for a referral to a rheumatologist. A specialist can also be found through an online directory.

  • What questions should you ask during the initial specialist visit?

    Prepare a list of questions and bring them to your appointment with the specialist. Consider asking questions about the effectiveness of treatment, required tests, medications to treat your symptoms, lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms, and how to cope with your condition.

  • Is ankylosing spondylitis curable?

    There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis. However, treatment provided by a rheumatologist can help manage your symptoms and possibly prevent permanent joint damage.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Ankylosing spondylitis.

  2. American College of Rheumatology. What is a rheumatologist?

  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network. Rheumatology: what should I expect when I see a rheumatologist?

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.