In contrast to mechanical low back pain, ankylosing spondylitis symptoms are not alleviated by rest, and will not go away after a few weeks; an AS diagnosis can often be confirmed after three months of symptomatic stiffness and pain, supported by a series of tests from your physician.
AS sufferers experience symptoms directly resulting from the inflammation, stiffening and fusion of sacroiliac joints, spinal vertebrae and other skeletal structures, including::
- Stiffness and pain along the lower back and spine, especially in the morning
- Tenderness of the sacroiliac joint specifically, and related pain in the buttocks
- Reduction or loss of mobility in the back
- Reduced chest expansion capabilities, as well as related chest pain
- Occasional stiffness, pain and mobility reduction in the hip and shoulder joints
- Frequent pain at night, pain that wakes patients up, and overall sleep impairment
- Weight loss
- Fatigue, depression, loss of libido and reduced capacity for work
In early phases of the disease, osteoporosis can develop in some patients; lacking early detection and treatment, this can result in fractures of the vertebrae (spine) and other bones.
Many AS sufferers also experience altered bowel habits, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort, with possibility of passage of blood; Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are often associated with ankylosing spondylitis, with more than half of AS sufferers experiencing bowel issues of some kind.
Enthesitis (where a tendon inserts into bone, such as Achilles tendon) is another frequent ailment in ankylosing spondylitis. Patients can also get iritis, or inflammation in the eye.
A minority of AS sufferers can, over time, experience the following manifestations of the disease:
- Eye dryness, inflammation and pain which, when untreated, can
- lead to scarring and visual impairment
- Fibrosis (abnormal tissue growth) in the lungs, restricting normal functioning in a minority of cases
- Heart abnormalities and dysfunction in a minority of cases
- Neurological issues affecting spinal health
- Kidney and prostate problems