Obesity is known to present broad health concerns, though new research presented at the 2017 American College of Rheumatology annual meeting in San Diego demonstrates that it can cause particular challenges for spondyloarthritis patients.

“Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges facing us in the 21st century,” said lead author Gillian Fitzgerald, of St. James’s Hospital in Dublin. “Traditionally, we have a perception of patients with axial spondyloarthropathy (axSpa) being of normal or even thin body build. However, recent studies have indicated that this is not the case, and that obesity is prevalent in axSpa patients.”

Prior research had failed to shed much light on obesity in spondyloarthritis. “We sought to clarify this issue,” Fitzgerald said.

Spondyloarthritis attacks the spine, and sometimes arm and leg joints. The main symptom, according to the ACR, is lower back pain.

Fitzgerald and colleagues studied 683 axSpa patients from the Ankylosing Spondylitis Registry of Ireland (ASRI); of the patients, 1.1 percent was underweight; 31.6 percent was of normal weight; 38.9 was overweight; and 28.4 percent was obese. Put differently, 67.3 percent was overweight or obese.

Obese axSpa patients “have significantly higher disease activity scores and worse physical function, spinal mobility and quality of life than patients who are either normal weight or overweight,” Fitzgerald said.

“Further research is needed to clarify this relationship between obesity and disease severity; in particular, the effect of losing weight on disease outcomes needs to be clarified. However, when devising treatment plans for axSpa patients, this study provides rheumatologists with a strong rationale to include strategies to actively control weight.”

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