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Disease Areas Axial Spondyloarthritis

Axial spondyloarthritis

Axial Spondyloarthritis (axSpA) is a chronic form of arthritis that causes significant inflammatory low back and/or buttock pain that persists more than three months.

The condition often affects the bones and joints at the base of the spine where it connects with the pelvis. When the disease is active, these joints become inflamed.

Unlike back pain caused by sports injuries or accidents, axSpA is an inflammatory condition and is generally chronic. People with axSpA can experience periods of painful episodes called ‘flares’, followed by temporary relief.

This type of inflammatory back pain worsens during period of inactivity – especially at night and early in the morning – and improves with physical activity.

axSpA is an umbrella term for non-radiographic axSpA (Nr-axSpA) and Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).
Nr-axSpA is the earlier form of the disease which can, in some cases,
progress to AS.


Bernd, living with ankylosing spondylitis

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Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects parts of the spine including the bones, muscles and ligaments.

It causes swelling between the vertebrae, which are the disks that make up the spine, and in the joints between the spine and pelvis. The symptoms can vary but most people experience back pain, stiffness and, in some cases, disability.

AS can develop at any time but usually begins from the teenage years or early adulthood onwards, a critical period in terms of education and work. Over time, AS can fuse vertebrae together, limiting movement. The disease is more common and more severe in men. It also often runs in families.The disease has no cure but medicines, exercise and physiotherapy can relieve the pain, swelling and other symptoms.

Spinal problems

If axSpA is not managed appropriately, bony growths can develop, causing the spine to fuse together in people with severe disease.
Spinal fusion can:

  • reduce range of motion
  • increase risk of fracture
  • cause the spine to curve forward
  • make the rib cage stiff
  • restrict the ability of the lungs to hold air
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Quality of life

Symptoms of axSpA can have a major impact on quality of life. The pain and stiffness caused by axSpA can limit the ability to work, socialise and exercise.

Quality of life can be improved if people with axSpA get treatment from rheumatologists, medical specialists who have been trained to diagnose and treat the disease.

Other symptoms

People with axSpA may also experience:

  • psoriasis (irritated, scaly patches of inflamed skin)
  • enthesitis (painful inflammation of the tissues that join bone to muscle)
  • dactylitis (swollen fingers and toes)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (with abdominal cramping and diarrhea)
  • uveitis (eye pain, redness, and sensitivity to light).

Who gets axSpA?

Onset of axSpA begins before the age of 40-45, often occurring in the early 20s and 30s.

It affects men and women, with men generally experiencing a more progressive form of the disease. However, women experience greater negative impact on quality of life.


Kristof, living with axial spondyloarthritis