Six things you need to know about Ankylosing Spondylitis

Saturday, May 6 is World Ankylosing Spondylitis Day. UHN’s Schroeder Arthritis Institute is home to world-leading experts in this painful disease.

We asked Program Co-director Dr. Nigil Haroon to share six things you need to know about ankylosing spondylitis.

How do you pronounce ankylosing spondylitis?

Ank-uh-lo-zing Spon-dee-li-tus (AS for short).

What is AS?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine. About 400,000 Canadians have AS. It can start to develop early in the teens. As back pain is a common symptom with many causes, it can take years to diagnose AS correctly.

How does AS affect quality of life?

The pain and stiffness associated with AS can limit mobility and work capacity. AS can cause some of the bones in the spine, called vertebrae, to fuse. This fusing makes the spine less flexible and can result in a hunched posture. If ribs are affected, it can be difficult to breathe deeply. AS can cause other symptoms such as appetite loss, weight loss, fatigue, anemia, eye inflammation, and digestive disease.

How is AS treated?

Although there’s no cure, over the last two decades there have been major advances in the treatment of AS. Medications can control inflammation, lessen symptoms and help slow progression of the disease.

What’s on the horizon for AS?

The spondylitis program at UHN is one of the largest translational research programs in the world. Our cutting-edge research focuses on finding the immunological basis of AS, the pathways involved, identifying novel areas for targeting therapy, and developing personalized medicine approaches for therapy with the help of our AI and machine-learning experts. We hope to see new modalities of treatment, earlier diagnosis with new biomarkers and improved models of care to improve the quality of life of individuals living with AS.

Why did you choose to specialize in AS?

When I was finishing my rheumatology training in India, I met Dr. Rob Inman, who established the AS Clinic as UHN. I found out we share many things including the love of immunology and the same taste in music. So I came to UHN to learn and work with the best!

Dr. Haroon is also an accomplished photographer. Visit @nigilharoon to see his work.

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