Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine, although other joints can become involved. It causes inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort.
It can occur at any age, spondylitis most often strikes men in their teens and 20s. It is less common and generally milder in women.
Symptoms typically appear in early adulthood and include reduced flexibility in the spine. This reduced flexibility eventually results in a hunched-forward posture. Pain in the back and joints is also common. In more advanced cases this inflammation can lead to ankylosis - new bone formation in the spine - causing sections of the spine to fuse in a fixed, immobile position. It can also cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in other areas of the body such as the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels, and small joints of the hands and feet.
There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are treatments that can reduce discomfort and improve function. The goals of treatment are to reduce pain and stiffness, maintain a good posture, prevent deformity, and preserve the ability to perform normal activities. When properly treated, people with ankylosing spondylitis may lead fairly normal lives.
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