I hope you all know by now that May is Walk Your AS Off month, dedicated to raising awareness of Ankylosing Spondylitis. But I don’t just think of it as raising awareness of the people who are living with it and diagnosed, I think that it’s more important to raise awareness to the people who have it and don’t realise it.
Looking around the interwebs I found this article, which is quite useful. It helps put the idea of AS as a chronic, degenerative, autoimmune condition that primarily affects the spine into real world terms.
None of these are 100%, they’re just indicators that something is wrong. If you tick off some or all of these signs go and see your doctor for an actual diagnosis. Even after showing all the symptoms for a very long time there was still some doubt whether I had Ankylosing Spondylitis or Scheuermann’s disease. The five signs that it mentions are:
- Unexplained pain in the lower back – especially in young adults. (Remember, people often begin to experience symptoms in their late teens/early twenties.)
- You have a family history of AS. Although no one gene causes AS, there are a number of genes that are often found in people with auto-immune disorders like AS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Crohn’s disease etc… An interesting one is a protein called HLA-B27, and if you’re going to be diagnosed this is one of the tests that’ll be used. A large number of people have the gene (in Caucasians it’s around the 8% of the population mark). So don’t panic if your result is positive! Only about 1.5% of people with the gene actually develop AS. But the interesting bit is that around 90% of people with AS test positive for it!
- Unexplained heel, joint or chest pain. Again, this is particularly important in young people. AS is an auto-immune condition. It primarily affects the lower spine, but is literally system wide. I had (and still have) intermittent chest pains, some of them quite debilitating. It can, and will at some point, attack anywhere. It’s an arthritic condition and Arthritis often attacks major joints like the hips, knees, hands and feet. But it can strike anywhere. AS is the same.
- It’s getting worse. AS is a degenerative condition. It gets worse with time. At the moment all the amazing treatments out there (physiotherapy, anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy, TNF inhibitors, physiotherapy, pain relief, physiotherapy) will help to reduce the effects. But there isn’t a cure. Follow your medical advice though and it’s absolutely possible to live with it.
- You get relief from your symptoms by taking NSAIDs. NSAIDs is the acronym used for Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatories, which is a catch all term group of drugs that includes asprin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They’re useful for lots of conditions, but if you find that you tick other boxes and this one – go and seek medical advice!
Don’t forget though, even if you are diagnosed, it’s not the end of the world. With the right treatment, and by keeping yourself moving, you’ll be fine.