What is ankylosing spondylitis? What are the tests and procedures that are employed for diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis? Scroll down to find out more on the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and the treatment of this medical condition.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that is categorized under a group of arthritic conditions called ‘spondyloarthropathies’. It is characterized by the inflammation of the spinal bones, sacroiliac joints and the intervertebral discs that separate the spinal bones. While this inflammatory disease causes pain and stiffness initially, fusion of bones may occur as the disease progresses.
This has an adverse impact on the range of motion of the spine. If left untreated, it may lead to kyphosis, a deformity of the spine. Men are more susceptible to this condition than women. Given below is some information on the risk factors along with tests that are generally conducted for diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis.
Risk Factors for Ankylosing Spondylitis
As mentioned earlier, the incidence of ankylosing spondylitis is higher in men. The exact cause of this arthritic condition is still unknown, but it is believed that one may be genetically predisposed to this condition. Studies have revealed that a majority of people who have been diagnosed with this condition are born with a particular gene. The genetic marker, in this case, is the presence of the HLA-B27 protein. However, that doesn’t mean that every person who tests positive for HLA-B27 protein will develop ankylosing spondylitis.
Environmental factors may also play an important role. Immune response is another aspect that has been studied to understand who might be at a risk of developing this arthritic condition. It’s possible that certain infections may activate the immune system, which may then continue to cause inflammation of a part of the spine or affect the entire spine. Intermittent lower back pain and stiffness are the common symptoms of this condition. Pain generally aggravates while one is resting and gets better with exercise or physical activity. Over time, the mobility of the spine may get reduced considerably.
How to Diagnose Ankylosing Spondylitis
A physical examination or a study of symptoms, may not be enough for the purposes of confirming the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. Doctors would have to conduct certain tests for diagnosing ankylosing spondylitis for ascertaining the cause of back pain and stiffness. Here are certain diagnostic tests that will be conducted in order to diagnose ankylosing spondylitis.
When doctors suspect a patient to be suffering from this form of arthritis, they start by conducting an X-ray examination of the spine as well as the pelvic region. This is one of the most basic diagnostic tests that help in detection of any abnormalities. Changes in the structure of the vertebrae, or in the joints located between the pelvis and the sacrum, can provide valuable information that will help them formulate a diagnosis. Fusion of the spinal bones is the characteristic feature of ankylosing spondylitis, and this can be detected with the help of X-rays. Inflammatory changes in sacroiliac joints or the vertebrae can also be studied with the help of other imaging procedures such as MRI or CT scans.
Blood tests can certainly provide valuable information that may help the doctors formulate a diagnosis. As mentioned earlier, a specific gene for HLA-B27 tissue type is often detected in people suffering from ankylosing spondylitis. This is the reason why, a human leukocyte antigen-B27 (HLA-B27) test is ordered. This test helps in detection of the HLA-B27 protein.
Along with this test, other tests that may be conducted include CRP (C reactive protein), ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and the RF (rheumatoid factor) test. Along with these blood tests a CBC (complete blood count) test is also ordered. These aforementioned tests are commonly ordered if a patient is exhibiting symptoms of any form of arthritis affecting the spine.
How to Deal with Ankylosing Spondylitis
Now that you have a basic idea on how ankylosing spondylitis is diagnosed, let’s move on to the treatment options. Well, as is the case with any inflammatory condition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will be prescribed for alleviating the symptoms that develop due to inflammation. If symptoms are severe, doctors may also prescribe corticosteroids or stronger pain medication. Drugs called TNF-inhibitors may be prescribed for reducing the intensity of symptoms. Etanercept, adalimumab or infliximab are some of the drugs that bind to TNF-alpha proteins that are produced by the body in response to inflammation.
By binding to these proteins, TNF-inhibitors help in reducing symptoms that are caused due to the production of this inflammatory protein. Since the symptoms usually worsen during periods of inactivity, do perform the exercises suggested by the doctors. In severe cases, where the range of motion is poor, and spine mobility is badly affected, surgery may be recommended. Following an anti-inflammatory diet may also have a positive effect in reducing the intensity of inflammation associated symptoms.
This was all about the tests and procedures that are employed for the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. Ankylosing spondylitis is a debilitating progressive disease, which if left untreated, may worsen and affect one’s ability to perform routine activities. Thus, the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier would it be to manage this serious form of arthritis.