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Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic autoimmune form of arthritis that causes inflammation, pain and stiffness in the spine and sacroiliac joints (located just above the tailbone). Inflammation in these areas can cause some of the vertebrae in the spine to fuse together.
In severe cases, the posture becomes hunched-forward and you cannot lift your head high enough to see ahead of you. Affected ribs can make it difficult to breathe deeply. Ankylosing spondylitis can also damage organs such as the heart and kidneys.
There is no cure for AS but early diagnosis and treatment can ease pain and symptoms. The disease affects men more than women and typically begins in early adulthood.
While there is no specific cause, genetic factors may play a role in ankylosing spondylitis. If you carry the gene HLA-B27, you may have a significantly increased risk of developing the disease. You don’t have to be HLA-B27 positive to have ankylosing spondylitis, however. In fact, a majority of the people with this genetic marker never contract the disease. Experts also believe that something in the environment, such as a bacterial infection, is needed to trigger ankylosing spondylitis. One theory suggests that the disease may be caused by bacteria from the intestines getting into the bloodstream in the region where the sacroiliac joints are located.