Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of chronic inflammation of the spine and the sacroiliac joints. The sacroiliac joints are located in the low back where the sacrum (the bone directly above the tailbone) meets the iliac bones (bones on either side of the upper buttocks). Chronic inflammation in these areas causes pain and stiffness in and around the spine. Over time, chronic inflammation of the spine (spondylitis) can lead to a complete cementing together (fusion) of the vertebrae, a process referred to as ankylosis. Ankylosis leads to loss of mobility of the spine.
Ankylosing spondylitis is also a systemic disease, meaning it can affect other tissues throughout the body. Accordingly, it can cause inflammation in or injury to other joints away from the spine, as well as to other organs, such as the eyes, heart, lungs, and kidneys. Ankylosing spondylitis shares many features with several other arthritis conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, and arthritis associated with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Each of these arthritic conditions can cause disease and inflammation in the spine, other joints, eyes, skin, mouth, and various organs. In view of their similarities and tendency to cause inflammation of the spine, these conditions are collectively referred to as "spondyloarthropathies." Ankylosing spondylitis is considered one of the many rheumatic diseases because it can cause symptoms involving muscles and joints.
Ankylosing spondylitis is two to three times more common in males than in females. In women, joints away from the spine are more frequently affected than in men. Ankylosing spondylitis affects all age groups, including children. The most common age of onset of symptoms is in the second and third decades of life.
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