Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic condition. It’s a form of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints of the spine. The joints where the spine meets the pelvis are most affected. The condition may also impact areas where tendons and ligaments attach to bones. It may cause inflammation in other areas of the body, such as:

  • shoulders
  • ribs
  • hips
  • knees
  • feet
  • eyes
  • jaw
  • bowel
  • heart (rare)
  • lungs (rare)

What are the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis?

Many people with AS experience stiffness and pain in the lower back. This pain may be sporadic and range in severity. These symptoms can progress into the upper spine.

Other symptoms vary from person to person. These symptoms can include:

  • loss of flexibility
  • spinal fusion
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • red, watery eyes
  • eye pain
  • reduced lung capacity
  • difficulty breathing
  • cauda equina syndrome
  • general unwell feeling
  • stomach or bowel problems

Although AS is progressive, not everyone will experience spinal fusion or severe complications.

AS symptoms may be atypical in women. For example, symptoms may begin in the neck instead of the lower back.

What causes ankylosing spondylitis?

The exact cause of AS is unknown, though genetics play a role. The genetic marker HLA-B27 is present in 95 percent of Caucasians with AS. This gene association varies across ethnic and racial groups. Overall, carrying the HLA-B27 gene may present a 40 percent risk for developing AS. Many people with this genetic marker don’t develop AS, and you don’t have to be HLA-B27 positive to have AS.

Five or six other genes may have a connection to AS. When these genes combine with a bacterial infection or other environmental factor, they may trigger AS. More research is needed in this area.

Risk factors to consider

AS usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood and continues throughout your life. It occurs more often in men than women. As a result, if you’re an adolescent or young adult male, your risk for AS is higher. Other risk factors are a family history of AS, having the HLA-B27 genetic marker, and frequent GI infection.

Natural treatments for ankylosing spondylitis

There isn’t a cure for AS. It’s a lifelong condition, but effective treatments are available. Treatment goals are to minimize pain and stiffness and reduce flares. Natural treatments may be used on their own or with traditional AS treatments.

These 10 natural therapies may help relieve symptoms:

1. Stretching

Stretching helps build flexibility and may reduce pain. Consider adding the spine stretch or the low-back rotation stretch to your daily routine.

2. Heat therapy

Apply a hot water bottle or heating pad to the affected area to reduce stiffness and pain. You may also use moist or dry heat. A warm bath may also help, especially before exercise. Don’t use heat therapy without consulting your doctor if you have diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, vascular disease, an open wound, or a skin condition such as dermatitis.

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