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The Silent Disease: Ankylosing Spondylitis and Its Hidden Impact

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic autoimmune condition that primarily affects the spine and other joints. The disease is characterized by inflammation and stiffness in the joints, which can eventually lead to the fusion of the vertebrae, resulting in a rigid spine. Despite its impact on mobility, AS is often overlooked and misdiagnosed, making it a silent disease that can affect people’s lives without them even realizing it. 

The exact cause of AS is unknown, but it is thought to have a genetic component. AS can also be triggered by environmental factors such as infections or other immune-related conditions. According to the Ankylosing Spondylitis International Federation, the global incidence of AS ranges from 0.1% to 1.4% of the population, with higher rates reported in certain ethnic groups, including Asians. Studies have shown that the prevalence of AS in Asia ranges from 0.1% to 1.4%, with the highest rates reported in Turkey, Iran, and China.

The Misdiagnosis Of Ankylosing Spondylitis 

Despite the relatively high incidence of AS in Asia, the disease is frequently under diagnosed and misdiagnosed, leading to delayed treatment and management. The symptoms of AS can be subtle and easily mistaken for other conditions, such as back pain or sciatica. The early signs of AS include:

  • Stiffness and pain in the lower back, hips, and buttocks
  • Symptoms that are often worse in the morning and improve with activity
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Eye inflammation (uveitis)
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Limited mobility in the spine
  • Difficulty bending or twisting

The symptoms of AS can vary widely between individuals and may develop gradually over time. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

The Impact Of The Disease 

The hidden impact of AS on people’s lives is profound. The physical symptoms of AS can affect a person’s ability to work, engage in leisure activities, and perform daily tasks. For example, a person with AS may find it difficult to sit for long periods, which can make it challenging to work at a desk job. They may also experience fatigue, which can make it hard to keep up with household chores or participate in social activities.

In addition to the physical symptoms, AS can also take a toll on a person’s mental health. Living with a chronic condition like AS can be stressful and isolating, particularly if the person feels unsupported or misunderstood by others. The impact of AS on mental health can be compounded by the stigma surrounding the condition. Because AS is not well understood, people with the disease may be unfairly judged or dismissed.

Treatments And Management Of AS

Fortunately, there are treatments available for AS that can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often used to relieve pain and inflammation, while disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help slow the progression of the disease. Biologic medications, which target specific proteins in the immune system, are also available for people with more severe AS.

In addition to medication, physical therapy and exercise can also be helpful for managing AS. Stretching and strengthening exercises can improve flexibility and range of motion, while aerobic exercise can help maintain cardiovascular health and reduce fatigue. Maintaining a healthy diet and managing stress can also help manage the symptoms of AS.

 Public Awareness May Lead To Better Quality Of Life 

The disease is typically overlooked and misdiagnosed, leading to delayed treatment and management. The physical and mental impact of AS on people’s lives can be significant. With the right treatment and management, people with AS can lead fulfilling lives and manage their symptoms effectively. 

Moreover, raising awareness about AS and reducing the stigma surrounding the condition can also help improve the quality of life for people with AS. Education and awareness campaigns can help increase understanding of the disease and encourage people to seek medical attention. It can also help reduce the social isolation and discrimination that people with AS often experience.

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