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Ankylosing Spondylitis

(Marie-Strumpell Disease)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease. It causes arthritis of the joints, mainly the spine and hips. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause inflammation of the eyes, lungs, or heart valves.

In severe cases, new bone may develop between the spinal bones. This can cause some areas of the spine to fuse. This fusion will decrease the flexibility and movement of the spine.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

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The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is not known. Some cases may be associated with a problem in a specific gene.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of ankylosing spondylitis include:


The severity of symptoms can vary from mild to very severe.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Stiffening and pain (arthritis) of the:
    • Lower back
    • Sacroiliac joint, where the back and hip meet, possibly radiating down the legs
  • Pain that is often worse at night
  • Stiffness that is worse in the morning
  • Symptom improvement with exercise or activity
  • Occasionally, pain and stiffness in other joints:
    • Knee
    • Upper back
    • Rib cage
    • Neck
    • Shoulders
    • Feet
  • Chest pain, which may suggest heart, heart valve, or lung problems
  • Eye pain, visual changes, increased tearing

Less common symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fever
  • Numbness (if arthritic spurs compress the spinal nerves)


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on common symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis, such as:

  • Dramatic loss of motion of the lower back and spine
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Limited chest expansion when taking deep breaths

Blood tests may be done to check for:

  • HLA-B27 gene marker
  • Abnormalities in the blood
  • Signs of autoimmune disease

Images of involved joints may be taken with:


There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis. Treatment is aimed at providing education and relieving the symptoms.

Treatments may include:

Medication may help to control pain and inflammation. They may include:

  • Over-the-counter medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Prescription medication that suppresses the inflammation such as:
    • Prescription NSAIDs
    • Corticosteroids
    • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS)
    • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-inhibitors

Physical therapy may help prevent progression and worsening of symptoms. Treatment may include:

  • Learning proper posture and the best positions for sleeping
  • Exercise program that includes:
    • Abdominal and back exercises (to decrease back stiffness and maintain good posture)
    • Stretching exercises
    • Water exercises
    • Breathing exercises (in cases where the rib cage is affected)

In severe cases, hip or joint replacement surgery may be needed. It will be done to relieve pain and help you move around easier. In some instances, spinal surgery is needed to allow an upright posture.


There are no guidelines for preventing ankylosing spondylitis because the cause is unknown.


Arthritis Foundation


Spondylitis Association of America



The Arthritis Society


Canadian Spondyloarthritis Association



Ankylosing spondylitis. Spondylitis Association of America website. Available at: http://www.spondylitis.org/about/as.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2012.

Ankylosing spondylitis. University of Washington Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Department website. Available at: http://www.orthop.washington.edu/?q=patient-care/articles/arthritis/ankylosing-spondylitis.html. Updated February 11, 2005. Accessed July 8, 2009.

Firestein ED et al. Kelley’s Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2008.

10/2/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: FDA approves new drug to treat psoriasis. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm183851.htm. Published September 25, 2009. Accessed October 2, 2009.

Last reviewed November 2012 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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