What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic type of inflammatory arthritis that causes stiffness and back pain. Ankylosing spondylitis is a serious autoimmune condition that belongs to a family of diseases called the seronegative spondyloarthropathies, which includes arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and reactive arthritis.

It’s caused by the body’s immune system attacking its own healthy cells and tissues, although the reason for this is not well understood. Ankylosing spondylitis is known as a systemic rheumatic disease, because it may also affect other parts of the body including the eyes, bowels and lungs.

Over time, ankylosing spondylitis leads to chronic inflammation, and the spine becomes stiffer and stiffer. The name for this condition comes from the term “ankylosing”, which means the fusion of two bones into one, while “spondylitis” refers to inflammation of the spine.

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Dr. Kam Shojania, MD FRCPC, Rheumatologist, discusses ankylosing spondylitis.

Quiz: Do You Understand Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Test your knowledge by answering the following questions:


If you have ankylosing spondylitis the body doesn't attempt to repair your lower back by growing new bone.

Similarly to osteoarthritis, if you have ankylosing spondylitis the body attempts to repair your lower back by growing new bone, which often grows across the joint and may even become fused.

Pain and stiffness in the tendons is a symptom of ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis symptoms include pain and stiffness in the joints in the lower back, spine, hips, knees, shoulders, ligaments and tendons.

Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation from ankylosing spondylitis won't cause permanent damage to the joints.

Over time, the inflammation from ankylosing spondylitis can cause permanent damage to the joints.

Biologics may be used to treat ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologics.

Ankylosing spondylitis is not linked to heart disease.

Since having AS is linked to heart disease, it’s important to monitor and/or lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
(Answer all questions to activate)

Dr. Kam Shojania, MD FRCPC, Rheumatologist, discusses ankylosing spondylitis management.

Back Pain and Stiffness

The most common AS symptoms are back pain and stiffness. Some patients believe they are dealing with a stiff back for years before being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. The joints between the bones in your spine and/or the joints between the spine and pelvis are generally the first areas affected by AS.

Inflammation Throughout the Body

While back pain and stiffness are the most common symptoms, over time, ankylosing spondylitis can affect other areas of the body like the hips, shoulders knees. Seeing a local  physiotherapist can help with inflammation and fatigue. Seeing a registered Dietician for advise on foods that cause inflammation could help.

In some patients, AS causes the Achilles tendons or plantar fasciitis in the foot to become inflamed. Others experience inflammation in one or both eyes (iritis).


Because ankylosing spondylitis is an autoimmune disease, it activates the body’s immune system into attacking the spine and joints. Many patients with AS often feel very tired. Seeing athletic therapist, personal trainer or kinesiologist could help with fatigue.


For some people, bowel inflammation is a symptom of ankylosing spondylitis.

No matter what the symptoms are, it’s essential for patients to go to regular rheumatologist appointments. Local Rheumatologist

Causes & Diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis

As mentioned above, the exact cause of AS isn’t known. As with many other diseases, it is thought that genetics has a role in who will develop ankylosing spondylitis.

Approximately 9 out of 10 people with AS have a gene called HLA-B27. While many people who have this gene never develop the disease, it does increase someone’s chances of developing ankylosing spondylitis.

As the immune system attacks the body, it causes inflammation in the spine. As a result, the body tries to repair itself by growing new bone. However, in patients with ankylosing spondylitis, bones grow across joints, connecting two bones together and seeing a local rheumatologist could help with this.

Diagnosing Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis causes different symptoms among patients. Some people have mild discomfort, while others experience reduced mobility. Most people with ankylosing spondylitis begin to notice signs and symptoms in their late teens to early 30s, but the onset can occur anytime.

Ankylosing spondylitis is best diagnosed by a rheumatologist, which is a type of doctor who specializes in autoimmune diseases and arthritis. To confirm the diagnosis of AS, the  Local rheumatologist will ask about your medical history, perform a physical examination and order tests like blood tests, x-rays or an MRI. Getting a referral from a family physician can help this process and evaluation.

Dr. Kam Shojania, MD FRCPC, Rheumatologist, discusses ankylosing spondylitis management.

FAQ - Audio Presenter

Mrs. Sandra Deorksen

Mrs. Sandra Deorksen

BSc (Pharm)
Vancouver, BC
What is Ankylosing Spondylitis
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