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Ankylosing spondylitis

Last updated: February 24, 2021

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Ankylosing spondylitis (axial spondyloarthritis), a type of seronegative spondyloarthropathy, is a chronic inflammatory disease of the axial skeleton that leads to partial or even complete fusion and rigidity of the spine. Males are disproportionately affected and upwards of 90% of patients are positive for the HLA-B27 genotype, which predisposes to the disease. The most characteristic early finding is pain and stiffness in the neck and lower back, caused by inflammation of the vertebral column and the sacroiliac joints. The pain typically improves with activity and is especially prominent at night. Other articular findings include tenderness to percussion and displacement of the sacroiliac joints (Mennell's sign), as well as limited spine mobility, which can progress to restrictive pulmonary disease. The most common extra-articular manifestation is acute, unilateral anterior uveitis. Diagnosis is primarily based on symptoms and x-ray of the sacroiliac joints, with HLA-B27 testing and MRI reserved for inconclusive cases. There is no curative treatment, but regular physiotherapy can slow progression of the disease. Additionally, NSAIDs and/or tumor necrosis factor-α inhibitors may improve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be considered to improve quality of life.

  • Sex: > (3:1)
  • Age: 15–40 years
  • Lifetime prevalence in the US: ∼0.5%

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

  • Genetic predisposition: 90–95% of patients are HLA-B27 positive.

Articular symptoms

Extra-articular manifestations

Diagnostic approach

  1. Physical examination, patient history, and pelvic x-ray: If results are conclusive, no additional testing is required!
  2. If inconclusive → HLA-B27 testing
  3. If still inconclusive → pelvic MRI

Clinical tests

  • Chest expansion measurement: to monitor disease severity
    • Method: measure chest circumference in full expiration and inspiration
      • Pathological difference: < 2 cm
      • Physiological difference: > 5 cm
  • Spine mobility tests
    • Schober test : Mark two points, S1 and another point 10 cm above → patient touches toes (without bending the knees) → distance between the two points increases by ≥ 4 cm → physiological test result; a smaller increase in distance between these two points is pathological
  • Examination of the hip [1]

The degree of decrease in chest expansion is an important determinant of disease severity.

Laboratory findings

Imaging

X-ray

  • Helps confirm a diagnosis and evaluate the severity of disease
  • Changes are generally more evident in later disease.
  • The changes usually occur symmetrically.
  • Pelvis (best initial test): to examine the sacroiliac joints
    • Signs of sacroiliitis, including ankylosis (fusion of the articular surfaces)
  • Spine
  • Thorax: ankylosis of costosternal and costovertebral joints

Mild courses may only exhibit inflammatory changes in the sacroiliac joints on x-ray after a number of years.

MRI

References:[4][5][6]

Syndesmophytes

Osteophytes
Definition

Radiographic features

  • Horizontal growth
Etiology

Syndesmophytes grow vertically, as opposed to osteophytes, which grow horizontally!

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Physical therapy is the most important treatment modality!References:[4][11]

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

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