Spondylitis can cause different types of discomfort — here are five unusual symptoms

Ankylosing spondylitis is a relatively rare form of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the joints in the spine. The first symptoms to appear are usually frequent bouts of dull pain and stiffness in the lower back and buttocks. The discomfort associated with ankylosing spondylitis is often more intense in the morning and at night and may improve after a warm shower or physical activity.

In addition to the spinal joints, ankylosing spondylitis can affect other joints throughout the body, including the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows. When a peripheral joint is affected, painful inflammation may develop at a site where a ligament or tendon attaches to a bone (a condition called enthesitis). Early-stage spondylitis can also cause general fatigue, mild fever and a loss of appetite.

Five unusual symptoms

In rare cases, spondylitis can also affect the eyes, lungs and heart. When this occurs, some of the resulting symptoms may seem unrelated to spondylitis, and this can complicate the diagnostic process. Here are five unusual symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis:

  • Chest pain. Due to long-term inflammation and scar tissue buildup around the lungs and between the ribs, the joints where the ribs and spine meet and where the ribs and breastbone meet may not be able to expand as fully as they once did. The resulting chest pain may be incorrectly attributed to a more serious cardiac condition.
  • Eye pain. Ankylosing spondylitis can sometimes cause the middle layer of an eye (uvea) to become inflamed. In addition to eye pain, this can cause redness, blurred vision, floaters (small spots in the line of vision), sensitivity to light and headaches.
  • Cauda equina syndrome. A potentially life-threatening condition caused by extensive compression of the nerve bundle at the base of the spine, cauda equina syndrome is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical attention. Some symptoms include loss of balance, speaking difficulties and incontinence.
  • AA amyloidosis. Ankylosing spondylitis may cause a buildup of amyloid (a protein produced by bone marrow) in the heart, kidneys, liver or other organs. The symptoms can vary based on which organs are affected and may include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling sensations in the hands or feet.
  • Cardiac lesions. In rare cases, ankylosing spondylitis can produce chronic inflammation at the base of the heart and around the aortic valve and aorta. Over time, this can result in the formation of cardiac lesions.

Finding relief after a diagnosis

While Laser Spine Institute does not treat ankylosing spondylitis, our dedicated team helps patients who have been diagnosed with this condition find appropriate treatment options for symptoms affecting the spine. For instance, we may recommend a conservative or surgical approach to help relieve some of the pain and stiffness associated with the condition.