May is ankylosing spondylitis month and to celebrate, we would like to share this question and answer session Arthritis Consumer Experts did with Michael Mallinson, President of the Canadian Spondylitis Association.
Q: Hi, Michael. Can you tell us about your organization?
A: The Canadian Spondylitis Association is a nonprofit national patient association formed in April 2006 to support and to advocate for those suffering from ankylosing spondylitis and associated spondyloarthritis diseases including psoriatic arthritis, enteropathic arthritis and reactive arthritis. Our goal is to be the leader in Canada providing support, education and advocacy for the spondyloarthritis patient community
Q: What are some misconceptions about ankylosing spondylitis?
A: Most people are unaware that AS strikes young people. The typical age of onset is between 17 and 35. Although people are aware that arthritis is a women’s disease, they are surprised when they found out AS has a significantly higher prevalence among men.
Q: What are the challenges in ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis?
A: AS is difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Because of this, AS is the most overlooked cause of persistent back pain in young adults. We are constantly educating people that it’s important to remember that signs of AS often may not be visible until the disease has progressed to a point where joint damage has already occurred. This is why the site of the stiffness, characteristics of onset of pain, and the time of day when pain is worst, may be the most important factors to analyze when diagnosing AS.
Q: How important is early detection?
A: It’s important for people to diagnose the cause of their pain and spinal stiffness. As in the case with most forms of inflammatory arthritis, early diagnosis and treatment of AS can be key factors in maintaining joint health and preventing disability and deformity. If the inflammation associated with AS continues unchecked, changes to the spinal column are likely to result, causing the spine to fuse solidly in a forward-stooped posture, spinal immobility and limitation of range of movement. If AS affects the hips, damage can result in the need for total hip replacement surgery.
Q: What impact does ankylosing spondylitis have on society and our economy?
A: Most people with spondylitis lead full and productive lives. Certain complications, however, can lead to absenteeism and disability. As one form of arthritis, it costs the North American economy billions of dollars in costs of care and productivity loss.