The prognosis for ankylosing spondylitis can vary. The condition is lifelong and can cause disability. However, a person may still be able to live independently.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause severe pain. In some cases, it can cause the bones in the spine to fuse together.

Read on to find out more about the outlook for ankylosing spondylitis. This article discusses life expectancy, quality of life, symptom management, and more.

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Ankylosing spondylitis is not directly life threatening.

Some older research suggests that mortality rates may be higher in people with ankylosing spondylitis than in those without the condition. However, more research is necessary to explore factors that may increase mortality rates in people with ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis often begins slowly, without noticeable signs or symptoms.

The rate at which symptoms begin to appear will differ for each person. As with other types of spondyloarthritis, symptoms often start with enthesitis — swelling in areas where tendons and ligaments attach to bones.

This leads to further inflammation, thickened tissue (fibrosis), and the formation of bone (ossification) in the areas of enthesitis.

Other symptoms that a person with ankylosing spondylitis may experience include:

  • chronic back pain
  • progressive stiffness in the spine
  • decreased spinal mobility
  • changes in posture
  • hip pain
  • buttock pain
  • arthritis affecting the large joints in the limbs
  • dactylitis, or swollen fingers

Learn more about how ankylosing spondylitis affects the body.

Ankylosing spondylitis may affect a person’s quality of life in the following ways:

  • physical changes such as restricted movement
  • emotional effects such as concerns about the future
  • decreased energy levels and feelings of exhaustion
  • social implications, since pain and mood changes can make it difficult to be around other people

The condition may also cause a person to feel like their body is unfamiliar to them, and the physical symptoms may contribute to feelings of distress and loss of identity.

A person’s doctor will be able to help them find ways to manage the physical, emotional, and social effects of ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA). Results from a 2022 study of 2,579 people suggest that axSpA typically begins before the age of 45 years. It is uncommon for axSpA to develop after the age of 50 years.

Learn more about the age of onset for ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis can cause complications such as:

  • chronic pain
  • disability
  • aortic valve regurgitation, in which the aortic valve in the heart does not close properly
  • pulmonary fibrosis, a thickening and hardening of tissues in the lungs
  • cauda equina syndrome, which involves compression of the nerves in the lower back
  • mood disorders

It is best for a person to contact their doctor if they have concerns about the complications of ankylosing spondylitis.

Learn more about the complications of ankylosing spondylitis.

Although there is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, a person can take steps to manage their symptoms.

A doctor may recommend medications such as:

A doctor may also recommend physical therapy, which can help a person:

  • strengthen the muscles in their neck and back
  • improve the strength of their abdominal muscles
  • improve their posture
  • maintain and improve joint flexibility

In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair or replace a joint. If a person feels that their symptoms do not respond to other treatments, they may wish to discuss the option of ankylosing spondylitis surgery with their doctor.

Learn more about treatments for ankylosing spondylitis.

Here are some frequently asked questions about ankylosing spondylitis.

How progressive is ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis often begins gradually and without symptoms. The rate of progression varies from person to person.

Will I end up in a wheelchair with ankylosing spondylitis?

Some people with ankylosing spondylitis may experience severe disability if the spinal bones fuse and symptoms affect the joints. However, this is not the case for all people.

It is best for a person to contact their doctor to discuss their specific outlook.

Ankylosing spondylitis often begins slowly and without symptoms. Over time, swelling and inflammation can begin to cause various symptoms. Fibrosis and ossification may also develop.

Ankylosing spondylitis progresses differently in each person. It is not directly life threatening, though more research is necessary to explore whether it indirectly affects mortality rates.

A person’s doctor will be able to recommend medications and other treatments to help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.