How Ankylosing Spondylitis Affects Men's Health

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Although ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can affect anyone, it’s two to three times more common in men than in women. While many types of arthritis occur later in life, AS can begin when you’re younger, as early as adolescence. As a guy, you may be wondering how AS may affect your health over the long term. Here’s a look at some concerns you may have about your health now and down the road.

How Will AS Affect My Body?

According to published research, AS is linked to spinal fusion more often in men. This occurs when bony growths called syndesmophytes develop and cause vertebrae to grow together. Progressive fusion can eventually lead to stiffness in your rib cage. This may restrict lung capacity and function. Another study also found that men are twice as likely as women to have a risk for severe joint damage with AS.

So, what can you do avoid these risks? Make an appointment with your health care provider and follow your treatment plan. Exercising regularly can help improve your posture and flexibility and relieve pain. You should also avoid cigarettes. Smokers with AS are more than four times as likely to have severe joint damage as nonsmokers.

How Will AS Affect My Mind?

Having a chronic condition like AS can increase your risk of developing depression. Because AS affects your everyday life, it’s understandable that it may make you feel anxious, sad, and depressed. Your pain may keep you away from activities that you enjoy.

As much as you may think you should “man up” and shrug off your feelings, it’s important to recognize that they could be signs of depression. Seek help. Depression can actually worsen your AS. That’s because you may adopt poor eating habits, skip exercise, or get careless about following your treatment plan. Talk with your health care provider about how you’re feeling. Working with a psychologist can help you develop strategies that improve your mood and your overall well-being.

How Will AS Affect My Fertility?

AS tends to strike when you’re younger and may coincide with when you’re thinking about starting a family. Several medications used to treat AS and its symptoms can impact your fertility. For instance, the drug sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) may be prescribed to treat pain and swelling, but it’s been shown to lower sperm count. Sperm volume should improve when you no longer take the medication. Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) is another drug that can cause infertility, especially when taken for long periods.

Be open and ask your health care provider about any potential effects your treatments may have on your fertility. Your provider may be able to put you on a treatment plan that won’t compromise your ability to have children when you decide the time is right. In certain situations, banking your sperm before beginning certain medications may be an option. 

Key Takeaways

  • Ankylosing spondylitis is linked to spinal fusion more often in men, which may restrict lung capacity and function. Men are also at risk for severe joint damage with AS.

  • Exercising regularly can help improve your posture and flexibility and relieve pain. Avoid cigarettes, which can worsen joint damage.

  • Having a chronic condition like AS can increase your risk of developing depression.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 3

  1. Coping with a diagnosis of chronic illness. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness.aspx

  2. Ankylosing Spondylitis. National Institutes of Health. National Insitute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/ankylosing-spondylitis

  3. Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Treatments/Cyclophosphamide-Cytoxan

  4. Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine.) American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Treatments/Sulfasalazine-Azulfidine

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