Spotting Spinal Arthritis Early

Ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis made earlier through screening inflammatory back pain patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Ankylosing spondylitis is not the most common cause of back pain. As such, it might be over-the-top to screen every back pain patient for ankylosing spondylitis. So, how can doctors more easily spot those with the disease?

Patients with chronic back pain caused by inflammation should be screened for ankylosing spondylitis. That is because inflammatory back pain is an early sign of ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that affects the spine.

"Ask your doctor about ankylosing spondylitis if you have chronic back pain."

Early diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis gives patients a better chance at controlling pain and slowing joint damage. Because inflammatory back pain is an early sign of ankylosing spondylitis, it could be used to diagnose this painful form of inflammatory arthritis.

In a recent study, Claire Harris, M.C.S.P, S.R.P., of Northwick Park Hospital in the United Kingdom, and colleagues wanted to see if identifying people with inflammatory back pain would be a cheaper way to spot early ankylosing spondylitis.

As the authors note, this was a pilot study, so it can provide only limited conclusions.

However, their findings suggest that it is straightforward, inexpensive, and quick to test for ankylosing spondylitis among patients in therapy for inflammatory back pain.

The results also show that inflammatory back pain may be more common in young adults than in the general population. For this reason, it may be worth while to focus screening on this younger population.

The authors write that testing for the HLA-B27 gene would be a good way to screen inflammatory back pain patients for ankylosing spondylitis.

Among Caucasions, the HLA-B27 gene is found in more than 95 percent of ankylosing spondylitis patients.

The conclusions of this study, which included only 50 participants, should be taken with a grain of salt. The study was explained as an oral presentation, and has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The abstract of the study appears in Rheumatology, an Oxford Journal. 

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Review Date: 
May 1, 2012
Last Updated:
May 4, 2012