Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can take a long time to diagnose -- more than a decade, according to one study. That can be frustrating, so when you finally find out that AS is the reason for your symptoms, it might even come as a relief to know what you’re dealing with.
Once you have your AS diagnosis, these strategies can help you get on track.
Make a Plan
Work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan. Learn everything you can about the disease, so you know how exercise, medication, and adaptive aids for everyday tasks can help you live better now and for years to come.
A 2020 study found that aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, or biking improved aerobic capacity and muscle strength among people with AS. Range-of-motion exercises can also help reduce stiffness, make you more flexible, and ease swelling and pain.
Troubleshoot Your Sleep
Pain can make it hard to slip into a restful slumber, which is one reason up to 90% of people with AS say they have trouble sleeping. Lack of sleep can make the disease worse, increasing symptoms like pain and fatigue. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
If your partner says you snore or gasp for breath while you sleep, or if you don’t sleep well and are sleepy during the day and don’t know why, call your doctor. These are hallmark symptoms of sleep apnea, a condition that causes repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night and has serious health risks. People who are newly diagnosed with AS are at a higher risk of sleep apnea.
Check Your Diet
Cutting back on sugar, refined grains, red meats, and processed foods -- which have all been shown to increase inflammation -- could improve AS symptoms. Eating a diet high in “anti-inflammatory” foods such as vegetables, salmon, and other fatty fish could also help.
Quitting smoking is essential for controlling AS. Smoking is linked to increased spinal damage, more severe disease, and worse quality of life among people with AS. In men, smoking may also lead to the development of bony growths called “syndesmophytes” that can cause the spine to fuse, making you less flexible and increasing pain.
Ask for Help
Living with AS can cause a roller coaster of emotions. Seeking out support from loved ones, a support group, or a mental health professional can help you deal with feelings of sadness, depression, stress, and anger that are often part of living with a chronic illness.
Using these strategies as part of a healthy lifestyle can help you take positive steps toward living well with AS.