Much like other chronic pain conditions, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can be very difficult to diagnose.
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a long-term chronic condition, which affects the spine and causes specific areas of the body to become inflamed. Sufferers of AS will experience daily pain and a whole host of other symptoms, which have a tendency to start when someone becomes a teenager or young adult. Much like fibromyalgia, AS can be extremely difficult to diagnose for many reasons. As a result, medical professionals must perform a number of checks in order to understand more.
Symptoms of AS develop slowly over time. Someone suffering with AS may not know they have the condition until further down the line, as symptoms can sometimes be confused with something less serious, such as common backache. Early diagnosis is critical in cases of ankylosing spondylitis, therefore it is incredibly important that you visit your GP if you are experiencing any of the common symptoms listed below.
- Lower back pain and stiffness, which tends to be worse in the early morning before easing up through the day or with exercise
- Pain in the sacroiliac joints, in the buttocks or the backs of your thighs
Other possible symptoms include:
- Tenderness at the heel
- Pain and swelling in a finger or toe
- Inflammation of the eye
- Tiredness or extreme fatigue
Another blocker to diagnosis lies in the fact that there is no definitive test that can be used to find AS in a suspected patient. Instead, medical professionals must follow a rigorous process and piece together information from different sources to finally reach a conclusion.
1) They will make a start by asking you what your symptoms are, when they started, and how long you have had them. Back pain caused by AS can be quite distinctive and usually does not improve with rest, which is usually the case for common back pain.
2) If they suspect that you might have AS, they may arrange for you to have a blood test, as this can sometimes indicate whether or not there is inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a common symptom of AS, particularly in the spine and joints. However, it is important to remember that just because someone has inflammation, it does not mean they have AS; only 30 to 40% of people with AS have inflammation that can be picked up by a blood test. In many cases, blood tests come back as normal.
3) If your results reveal that you do have inflammation, you will be referred to a rheumatologist who will conduct further tests, such as an X-ray, MRI scan and ultrasound scan, to examine your spine and pelvis.
4) As well as blood tests, you may also undergo a genetic blood test if you carry the HLA-B27 gene, which is commonly found in most people with AS. While this can contribute to a diagnosis, it is not entirely reliable; not everyone with AS has this gene and some of those who do have never developed AS.
Providing a definite diagnosis for ankylosing spondylitis is nothing short of complex. In some cases, it can take years for someone to receive a diagnosis, so they can finally be treated correctly. Typically, a diagnosis can be confirmed if an X-ray shows inflammation of the sacroiliac joints, and if one of the following applies to you:
- At least three months of lower back pain that gets better with exercise and doesn’t improve with rest
- Limited movement in your lower back (lumbar spine)
- Limited chest expansion compared with what is considered normal for your age and sex
If all three of the above applies to you, but you don’t suffer with inflammation in your sacroiliac joints, then you will likely be diagnosed with probable ankylosing spondylitis.
It is important to remember that the team at Brian Barr Solicitors does not consist of medical experts, therefore, we are unable to answer any medical questions you may have. If you are worried that you may suffer from ankylosing spondylitis, then we would suggest contacting your GP, who will be able to start the diagnosis process.
We are, however, experts in handling compensation claims for sufferers who have developed ankylosing spondylitis, as a result of an accident or injury that was not their fault. If you believe you are someone who is owed compensation, then please get in touch with our team, so we can help you. You can reach us via telephone by calling 0161 737 9248 or by filling in our online contact form here.