Listen to this article
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a condition that is often misrepresented as a “regular backache”. However, it is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints of the spine, thereby reducing flexibility, damaging the posture, and posing the risk of loss of mobility. Ever since ‘work from home’ and sitting continuously before the screens has become the new normal, Ankylosing Spondylitis is often ignored as lifestyle-induced or spondylitis.
But the fact is that it is more prevalent in men, and its onset during their most active and productive years can lead to an extremely poor quality of life. It is the need of the hour to lend an ear to the debilitating effects that Ankylosing Spondylitis can have on young individuals.
In the recent past, biologics, which is an advanced treatment therapy, has become a preferred option for rheumatologists as the first line of treatment. Ankylosing Spondylitis patients have immune systems that cause excess inflammation in the joints, which can damage them, and cause pain and stiffness of fused joints.
Biologics are designed to target and affect specific proteins and substances that are involved in the inflammatory process. They do not just help ease the inflammatory pain, but also reduce the risk of other health conditions related to Ankylosing Spondylitis such as eye inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, and even depression. Biologic therapies may also prevent new bone formation in the long term.
Dr Ved Chaturvedi, Consulting Rheumatologist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi, explains: “Ankylosing Spondylitis affects the most vulnerable group i.e., the young working population, and it mostly affects men over women, with the current ratio being 3:1. If it is not treated properly and in time, it can affect the entire spine, leading to functional disability. Most of the time, the diagnosis is delayed due to late referrals to the rheumatologist. Currently the hallmark of Ankylosing Spondylitis treatment is biologics and lifestyle modification.”
Awareness about the condition is the need of the hour to seek the right kind of treatment.
It is imperative to seek medical attention, if one has a low back or buttock pain that comes on gradually and is worse in the morning or awakens you from sleep. One must also see an eye specialist immediately in case of a painful red eye, severe light sensitivity, or blurred vision.
“Lack of awareness and diagnosis of the disease are key challenges that Ankylosing Spondylitis patients face. The majority of the patients are diagnosed much later into the condition; some of them are even diagnosed 7 years post-onset of the condition,” says Dr Chaturvedi.
“While AS is an irreversible disease, it is manageable through correct treatment and lifestyle modifications,” adds Dr Chaturvedi.
It is important for one to work closely with a doctor to find a treatment plan that best addresses the discomfort and problems experienced. Also, there are patient support groups where attendees can engage in confidential, non-judgmental interactions with peers who know what it feels like to live with this condition. The right treatment and support can help one lead a normal, productive life, despite diagnosis.