Individuals with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) often find themselves contending with pain, stiffness, and potential loss of mobility in the back and spine. This can have a profound impact on their mental health.

AS is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, lower back, and sacroiliac joints. It can cause pain and stiffness and potentially lead to the fusion of vertebrae. This has the potential to cause loss of mobility in the spine and pelvis.

Beyond the physical challenges, this condition can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. Individuals with AS may have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.

This article explores the relationship between AS pain and mental health, chronic pain, and risk factors. It offers insights into coping strategies and treatment options.

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Living with AS can greatly affect an individual’s health, both physically and mentally. A 2019 study found that individuals with AS are 2.21 times more likely to develop depression than those without AS. Anxiety may also be prevalent in individuals with AS.

The American Psychological Association (APA) characterizes depression as:

  • sadness that lasts more than a few days
  • a lack of interest in daily activities
  • weight loss or gain
  • sleeplessness or excessive sleeping
  • lack of energy
  • inability to concentrate
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • excessive guilt
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

The APA characterizes anxiety by symptoms including:

  • feelings of tension
  • worry
  • irritability
  • increased blood pressure
  • recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns
  • a rapid heartbeat

AS pain may also lead to sleep disturbances, which can further exacerbate the toll on a person’s mental health. If a person suspects that they have symptoms of depression, they should seek professional help from a healthcare or mental health professional.

Read more about AS.

According to a 2023 article, chronic or persistent pain lasts for 3 months or more and adversely affects a person’s well-being. Over 100 million people in the United States meet the criteria for chronic pain.

Chronic pain is a hallmark of AS. It is more than just a physical sensation. The pain can affect every aspect of a person’s life.

Chronic pain can contribute to mood disturbances and altered perceptions of pain. Individuals with AS may find themselves caught in a cycle where pain causes emotional distress and vice versa.

The emotional toll of chronic pain can include symptoms such as:

  • irritability
  • frustration
  • sense of helplessness

Chronic pain has close links to the development or exacerbation of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Suicide attempts occur among 5-14% of people with chronic pain. Approximately 20% of people with chronic pain experience suicidal ideation.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Understanding the risk factors associated with AS pain and mental health is important for proactive management. Individuals with a history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, may be more vulnerable to the psychological impact of AS.

Additionally, the severity of pain and the duration of the condition can contribute to the likelihood of developing mental health challenges.

Social factors, such as a lack of support or understanding from family, friends, or colleagues, can also amplify the risk. The isolation that may accompany living with a chronic condition like AS can further contribute to feelings of loneliness and despair.

Read about how AS affects the body.

Managing chronic pain or AS symptoms and its impact on mental health requires a comprehensive approach. Medical interventions, including anti-inflammatory medications, aim to control and alleviate the physical pain associated with AS. However, addressing mental health requires a parallel effort.

Treatment options for mental health complications linked with AS may include:

A person should speak with a healthcare professional about their individual circumstances and symptoms to help find the best treatment option.

Beyond medical and therapeutic treatment, adopting coping strategies can be paramount for individuals navigating the challenges of AS pain and its impact on mental health.

Some coping strategies may include:

  • mild physical activity
  • open communication with friends and family
  • mindfulness and relaxation techniques
  • listening to relaxing music
  • taking a warm bath
  • going on a walk in nature
  • cuddling with a pet
  • learning an instrument

Building a routine and setting aside time for hobbies and relaxing coping strategies can help individuals look after their mental and physical well-being. This can help lower the risk of developing a mental health condition and may alleviate some of the symptoms associated with AS.

Read about self-care for AS.

Knowing when to seek professional help is important for effective management.

If the impact of AS pain on an individual’s mental health becomes overwhelming or if symptoms of anxiety or depression occur, they should consult a healthcare professional. Timely intervention can help prevent and manage mental health challenges.

For many people dealing with AS, the effects go beyond just physical pain. Receiving a diagnosis of AS might increase the chances of feeling anxiety or depression.

However, there are several steps individuals can take to manage their mental well-being, such as seeking help from a mental health professional or practicing self-care.

By addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of the condition, individuals can enhance their quality of life. Through a combination of medical treatment, therapeutic interventions, coping strategies, and a strong support network, individuals with AS can navigate the challenges and embrace a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Discussing concerns with a healthcare professional is an important part of creating a treatment plan tailored to an individual’s needs.