Posted on Thursday 28th April 2011
Back in Play is a Europe-wide campaign to raise awareness of Ankylosing Spondylitis
North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust is backing an international campaign to raise awareness of a chronic debilitating condition which affects around one in 200 people in Europe.
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a painful, progressive form of inflammatory arthritis which mainly affects the spine but can also affect other joints, tendons and ligaments.
The condition means some or all of the joints and bones of the spine fuse together and can also impact in the eyes, bowel, lungs and heart.
The first Saturday in May each year has been designated World Ankylosing Spondylitis Day and this year there will be information stands at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven for a week from 9 May to raise awareness of the condition among the public and health professionals.
AS most commonly affects men, typically striking in their late teens and twenties, but anyone from either sex can be affected at any age.
Wendy Farren, Physiotherapist for North Cumbria University Hospitals, explained some of the symptoms to look out for.
“Back pain caused by Ankylosing Spondylitis is persistent, is likely to feel worse first thing in the morning or after resting, and better after exercising,” she explained. “It is common to experience alternating buttock pain. Sleep is often disturbed especially in the second half of the night. Occasionally people also experience pain in other joints apart from the back.
“Anyone experiencing these symptoms, especially if they persist for three months or more, should speak to their GP. Your GP may refer you to a rheumatologist if they feel it is appropriate.”
Even amongst experts, there are still many unknowns surrounding the causes of Ankylosing Spondylitis. Around 95% of white western Europeans who develop AS carry a particular gene – HLA-B27 – but only around 8% of people who carry this gene will go on to develop AS. It is thought that that AS is triggered by an environmental factor, such as contact with an otherwise harmless micro-organism, in people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.
Wendy added: “Genetic research is ongoing which will hopefully one day give us a greater understanding of AS and lead to improved treatments.
“At present there is no cure for AS but the pain and stiffness experienced by sufferers can be helped by a combination of physiotherapy, good postural advice, exercise and medication.”
With the average time span for diagnosis currently ranging from 3-11 years it is vital that symptoms are recognized early so that treatment can be started promptly.
“The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome for patients, allowing them to continue with the activities they enjoy such as work and sport,” said Wendy. “If left untreated, over many years, the spine can become rigid as it fuses together, making it increasingly difficult for the patient to move freely and carry out everyday tasks. That is why it is so important to raise awareness of the symptoms of AS.”
A Europe-wide campaign to raise awareness of Ankylosing Spondylitis, called Back in Play, is being supported by Cumbrian-born Premier League footballer Rory Delap. A website full of information about AS, plus an online game featuring Delap’s trademark throw-in, can be found at http://eu.back-in-play.com/.
Back in Play posters and leaflets will be among information available on stalls at the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital from Monday, 9 May.