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Ankylosing Spondylitis - Symptoms

Severe or advanced ankylosing spondylitis

If, over time, the inflammation continues, it will lead to scarring and permanent damage.

  • Scarring in the spine causes the joints of the spine to grow together (fuse, or "ankylose").
    • As the bones fuse camera.gif, back pain will gradually go away, but the spine will remain very stiff and unable to bend. The fused spine is more likely to break (fracture) if injured, especially the neck (cervical spine).
    • Changes in the spine camera.gif can cause problems with balance, safety, and mobility. The upper spine can curve forward until eventually the person has a hard time looking straight ahead. Also, as the spine loses its natural curves, it becomes hard to balance while standing and walking, especially if the hips are also affected.
  • Breathing can become difficult as the upper body curves forward and the chest wall stiffens. Severe ankylosing spondylitis can also cause scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis) and an increased risk of lung infection. This can cause even greater problems in smokers, because their lungs are already more prone to lung infection and scarring.
  • Scarring in the eye from uncontrolled iritis can lead to permanent visual impairment and glaucoma.
  • In rare cases, the heart muscle can become scarred and the heart valves may become inflamed. The heart may be unable to pump properly (heart failure). The main artery leading from the heart (aorta) can also be affected by becoming inflamed and enlarged near where it leaves the heart.
  • Bowel inflammation is sometimes linked with ankylosing spondylitis.
  • The kidneys can be affected by taking medicines over a long period of time.
  • Some people who have ankylosing spondylitis for many years develop cauda equina syndrome from scarring around the nerves at the end of the spinal cord. This condition can cause loss of feeling in the saddle area of the groin and legs. It can also cause problems with bowel and bladder control and sexual activity. Talk to your doctor if you start having problems controlling your bowels or bladder.

The stiffening of the chest can feel like the discomfort or "heaviness" of a heart attack. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause the heart to work less efficiently.

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