When a person does not get treatment, AS can lead to significant disability. Individuals with untreated chronic AS may experience difficulty with posture, mobility, and physical activities, decreasing their quality of life.

Moreover, untreated AS can result in progressive structural damage and fusion of the spine. This can lead to a loss of spinal flexibility and chronic pain.

Individuals with untreated AS can also experience broader health issues, such as uveitis (inflammation in the eye), inflammatory bowel disease, and cardiovascular complications.

Read on to learn more about the effects of untreated chronic AS and why treatment matters.

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Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the axial skeleton. This includes the spine, pelvis, and sacroiliac joints. These are the joints that link the pelvis and lower spine.

People with AS experience chronic pain and stiffness in the lower back and buttocks. The condition typically begins in early adulthood, with around 8 in 10 people developing their first symptoms before the age of 30.

Doctors do not fully understand the exact cause of AS. It seems that genetic factors are involved, with the HLA-B27 gene playing a significant role in its development.

However, not everyone with the HLA-B27 gene develops AS, suggesting that other factors, such as environmental triggers, are involved in the disease process. Genetic predisposition likely varies by ethnicity, geographic location, and more.

While there is no cure for AS, timely diagnosis and appropriate management can help alleviate symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve quality of life.

Untreated chronic AS can result in complications that significantly impact an individual’s health and overall well-being.

Spinal deformities and functional impairment

Without appropriate treatment, inflammation damages the spine, leading to a loss of flexibility. As a result, a person will have increasing difficulty moving their spine.

In severe cases, the chronic inflammation triggers extra bone formation between the vertebrae. This means that over time, the vertebrae will progressively fuse together. A person can also develop spinal deformities and excessive forward curvature of the spine.

Extra bone can also develop between the ribs and breastbone, fusing them together. When this happens, a person may have pain and difficulty breathing.

Joint and ligament damage

As the disease progresses, a person’s spine and sacroiliac joints (which link the pelvis and lower spine) can fuse. It may also affect the shoulders — around 1 in 3 people with AS develop hip and shoulder problems, and some may also have knee damage.

Furthermore, 1 in 10 people has problems with jaw inflammation. This is particularly challenging as it can make it difficult for a person to eat, contributing to malnutrition and weight loss.

People can also develop enthesitis, which is inflammation where ligaments attach to bones. It can affect the spine, chest, sacroiliac joints, and pelvic bones. It can also affect the heels, making it painful to walk.

Without treatment, these issues can seriously impact a person’s ability to perform daily tasks.

Osteoporosis and fractures

Chronic inflammation in AS can disrupt the balance between bone formation, leading to osteoporosis. This condition causes reduced bone density and an increased risk of fractures.

People with osteoporosis must be vigilant about their bone health and take steps to minimize the risk of fractures. However, there are effective treatments to strengthen bones and lower fracture risk.

Eye problems

AS can also cause inflammation throughout the body and affect various organs, including the eyes. Up to 35% of those with AS develop uveitis.

This condition involves inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, including the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. As a result, the eyes become red and swollen, sensitive to light, and painful. A person may also have blurred vision.

Prompt recognition and treatment of uveitis are essential to prevent complications and preserve vision. Untreated uveitis can lead to partial or complete vision loss.

Heart disease

The chronic inflammation of AS increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, heart attack, and heart failure.

However, a person can reduce their risk with regular follow-ups with a doctor to catch any early signs of cardiovascular disease and initiate treatment. Eating a balanced diet, performing regular physical activity, and quitting smoking, if applicable, are also important.

Inflammatory bowel disease

There is a well-established association between AS and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Half of those living with AS develop IBD, which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms of IBD include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness

Treatments such as specific diets, lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgery can relieve symptoms and manage the condition.

Treatment for chronic AS is of paramount importance as it can significantly impact a person’s overall well-being.

Timely and appropriate management helps alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and improve physical functioning, allowing people to maintain independence. Moreover, treatment aims to slow the progression of AS, prevent structural damage to the spine, and minimize the risk of complications.

By adhering to a comprehensive treatment plan that may include medication, physical therapy, exercise, and lifestyle modifications, individuals with AS can experience better symptom control, improved mobility, and an enhanced quality of life.

People should contact a doctor if they have persistent and worsening pain or stiffness in the back, buttocks, or joints. Likewise, if a person develops symptoms of an AS complication, such as eye problems, gastrointestinal symptoms, or worsening AS symptoms, they should seek medical attention.

Consulting a healthcare professional ensures appropriate evaluation, guidance, and personalized care for individuals with AS.

Untreated chronic ankylosing spondylitis can have significant consequences. From the risk of spinal deformities to complications such as uveitis and osteoporosis, the impact of untreated AS can be far-reaching.

Timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and ongoing management are pivotal in mitigating these risks and improving outcomes.