Is ankylosing spondylitis classified as an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease causes the body’s immune system to misidentify its own cells and attack them as if they were a virus or other pathogen. Ankylosing spondylitis is one of several conditions included in the broader category of spondyloarthritis and although this class shares similarities with autoimmune diseases, they are technically classified by many physicians and researchers as an autoinflammatory disease.

This specific type of arthritis primarily affects the spine. It typically causes inflammation to develop between the spinal bones and ligaments, and can also cause inflammation within the sacroiliac joints that connect the spine to the pelvis. As it progresses, the inflammation can lead to chronic back pain and stiffness.

In severe cases, if ankylosing spondylitis is left untreated, it can sometimes advance to the point that the inflamed spinal bones begin to meld together. When this happens, the spine can become rigid and inflexible. Eventually, this rigidity can cause the spine to take on an unnaturally hunched-forward posture that makes it difficult or even painful to walk or stand.

Early signs to watch for

While ankylosing spondylitis can affect people of all ages, it most frequently develops in individuals who are between the ages of 17 and 35 years. Some early signs to watch for include:

  • Persistent discomfort in the lower back, hips and buttocks that gradually worsens over time
  • Pain and stiffness that seem worse after periods of rest and inactivity and improve with movement
  • Pain and stiffness in other joints, such as the shoulders, wrists, fingers, knees, ankles or toes
  • Heel discomfort that makes it difficult to stand and walk on hard surfaces
  • Eye pain, inflammation, redness or light sensitivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • General fatigue

Treatment options

Although ankylosing spondylitis can cause many uncomfortable symptoms that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, surgery is often not required. Instead, conservative treatment is often effective in achieving relief. Specifically, mild to moderate cases of ankylosing spondylitis tend to respond well to pain relievers and certain specialized medicines that are designed to slow the arthritic process and the resulting damage. Additionally, because exercise can enhance flexibility, increase strength and improve posture, physical therapy is usually an important part of an ankylosing spondylitis treatment plan.

The surgeons at Laser Spine Institute do not treat ankylosing spondylitis with minimally invasive surgery. However, our team can help patients who are diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis find effective treatment options. To learn more, contact us today.