5 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have Ankylosing Spondylitis

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  • As a type of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) primarily affects the spine, but the condition’s inflammatory effects can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious complications. Possible ankylosing spondylitis complications include inflammation of the eye (iritis), abnormal curvature of the spine (kyphosis), incontinence, and scar tissue in the lungs. To avoid these serious complications, take prescribed medications as directed and be vigilant for these symptoms you should never ignore if you have ankylosing spondylitis.

  • 1
    Vision problems in one or both eyes
    young woman at desk rubbing eyes

    Ankylosing spondylitis can cause inflammation in various parts of the eye, including the iris (which results in iritis) and other tissues in the eyeball itself (called anterior uveitis). When ankylosing spondylitis causes eye inflammation, the condition often occurs in only one eye at a time before affecting the fellow eye. Left untreated, these complications can permanently damage your vision. See an ophthalmologist immediately if you have ankylosing spondylitis and experience:

    • Eye pain

    • Light sensitivity

    • Redness

    • Vision disturbance, blurriness or other unusual visual symptoms

  • 2
    Upper back pain or curvature
    woman touching upper back

    The arthritic inflammation of ankylosing spondylitis primarily affects the vertebrae of the spine. Even with treatment, the vertebrae can crack or collapse over the course of years. In particular, the vertebrae near the top of the spine can begin to fuse together, causing a rounded-back appearance. This is kyphosis. If you experience pain in the upper back along with a change in the appearance of your spine below the neck, consult with your doctor. Mild cases of kyphosis caused by ankylosing spondylitis may be treatable with medications, while more advanced cases may require surgery to correct.

  • 3
    Urinary or bowel incontinence
    Female and male sign on toilet door

    The vertebral inflammation caused by ankylosing spondylitis can put excessive pressure on the spinal nerves. In turn, this nerve compression can cause loss of sensation. When nerve compression due to ankylosing spondylitis occurs in the lowest part of the spinal column, urinary or bowel continence may result. These complications can be a nuisance on their own, but they also might signal a rare but serious complication called cauda equina syndrome. If you experience urine or fecal leakage, increased urinary frequency, or numbness/weakness in the legs, see your doctor right away.

  • 4
    Chest pain
    Man with chest pain

    Although ankylosing spondylitis primarily affects the vertebrae, it also is associated with a higher risk of certain heart conditions, including aortitis (inflammation of the ascending aorta), irregular heartbeat, an enlarged heart, and atherosclerosis. While each of these conditions exhibit unique symptoms, you should never ignore chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations or swelling of the feet and legs. If you experience severe chest pain, call 911 for emergency medical attention. As part of your medical care, you should monitor your heart function, blood pressure, eat a heart healthy diet, and exercise as recommended by your rheumatologist. Your doctor may recommend you see a cardiologist, especially if you have additional heart disease risk factors.

  • 5
    A cold that won’t go away
    Man sneezing

    If you come down with a cold or respiratory infection that won’t go away, call your doctor. Ankylosing spondylitis can affect the ability of the chest wall to expand and contract, which may lead to impaired lung function. A respiratory virus can further complicate this issue. Ankylosing spondylitis also can cause scar tissue to develop in the upper lobes of the lungs, permanently affecting their ability to perform normally. Be sure to see a doctor if you catch a virus that takes a long time to clear up or causes difficulty with breathing.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 15
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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    Association of America. https://www.spondylitis.org/Possible-Complications