A little story from medical school.
Chronic back pain is such a common issue that we tend to think all back pain is the same. In fact, I remember when as a medical student back in Paris, France, we were brushing off the back pain of one of our colleagues. She mentioned that her low back was constantly hurting her and that she felt stiff when she was sitting at her desk studying for her exams. Since medical school requires a lot of time sitting, we all agreed, including her, that it was just a reflection of her dedication to the field. Truth is, at the time, we were all suffering from the aptly named “medical student syndrome”. Every week, as we were learning about new medical conditions, many of us were certain we had the exact symptoms described in our lectures. And so, the case of our friend seemed to be just one more example of this funny syndrome.
Fast forward 7 years and our friend developed such severe pain that she got hospitalized for it. She underwent many tests, and the final diagnosis was ankylosing spondylitis. She could have felt better all of these years. Read below to learn more about this not so uncommon diagnosis.
What is Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine, causing inflammation and pain. It is more common than you think—in fact, it is estimated to affect up to 1.4 million people in the United States alone. Unfortunately, there is often a delay of several years between symptom onset and diagnosis, leading to unnecessary physical and emotional suffering. Painkillers and narcotics may be prescribed as a temporary solution, but they do not address the underlying cause of the condition. So let’s take a look at what ankylosing spondylitis is, how it presents itself, and what we can do about it.
How Does Ankylosing Spondylitis Present?
Ankylosing spondylitis typically manifests with severe back pain that may range from dull and aching to sharp or stabbing pains. The pain tends to be worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity, such as sleeping or sitting for long periods of time. Other symptoms include stiffness (which can worsen over time), fatigue, weight loss, fever, difficulty sleeping due to pain, and even depression or anxiety due to chronic discomfort or lack of understanding from family members or friends.
Complications of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Left untreated, ankylosing spondylitis can lead to various complications such as spinal deformity and difficulty moving freely due to the ankylosis (when vertebrae fuse together), vision problems due to inflammation around the eyes (uveitis), joint damage resulting from chronic inflammation in peripheral joints (such as hips), weakened bones due to lack of movement (osteoporosis), lung disease caused by reduced chest expansion resulting from spinal fusion, nerve compression from bone formation on the spine (radiculopathy) as well as depression or anxiety related issues due to chronic pain or social isolation resulting from persistent fatigue.
Treating Ankylosing Spondylitis
We can prevent all of these complications!
Fortunately, we now have very efficient drugs available that can put patients with ankylosing spondylitis into remission – sometimes even permanently! Some of the drugs that help patients with severe ankylosing spondylitis are in fact one of the reasons I was drawn to the field of rheumatology! Patients who had been crippled for many years prior were now symptom free and able to live completely normal lives.
If you think that you may be suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis or any other form of chronic inflammation, please make an appointment with us. UnabridgedMD in Rheumatology is the first Direct Care rheumatology practice in Colorado. We will work with you to get to the root of your pain so you can finally find relief. Don't suffer needlessly for years like so many of our patients, and my good friend, have before coming to see us. There is hope and we are here to help you every step of the way.