Axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) is often diagnosed in a person’s early twenties. Although, signs and symptoms can appear earlier. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be confronting. However, research has given us a much better understanding of the disease. This has led to developments in the diagnosis and management of axSpA. Nowadays, people diagnosed axSpA have a much better prognosis.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect changes in the spine and sacroiliac joints in earlier stages of the disease. This makes it possible to receive an earlier diagnosis. An earlier diagnosis means you can start treatment sooner and reduce the risk of complications.
Newer therapies, like biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (bDMARDS) have shown to be effective in controlling inflammatory arthritis, like axSpA. bDMARDS work by blocking certain substances in the immune system to reduce inflammation and pain. bDMARDs can reduce symptoms and slow disease progression. However, not everyone with axSpA will require treatment with bDMARDs. A rheumatologist will assess you and decide your best course of treatment. A person with axSpA will initially be prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and an appropriate exercise program.
Early treatment of axSpA is important to reduce the risk of damage and prevent complications. If left untreated axSpA can cause irreversible joint damage. axSpA is a progressive disease, meaning that the longer a person lives with the condition the higher the risk of complications. People with well controlled axSpA can usually follow general guidelines for a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. However, it is important to remember that living with axSpA is not a linear pathway and there will be times when your symptoms are under control and times when they flare.
What can I do?
- Work with your rheumatologist to find the best course of treatment. There is no cure for axSpA. So early treatment is critical for the long-term management of your arthritis. Early treatment can help to control symptoms, reduce disease activity and the risk of severe damage. It can also help to protect against other diseases linked to axSpA, like cardiovascular disease.
- Work with a physiotherapist to find an appropriate exercise program. Exercise is essential for management of axSpA along with other treatments. Exercise can help to:
- Reduce disease activity and symptoms, including pain and stiffness.
- Improve and maintain movement and flexibility
- Improve posture
- Improve sleep
- Improve energy
- Learn about your condition and play an active role in the management of it. Self-management has become an important part of the overall treatment of arthritis. Self-management refers to playing an active role in your own health care alongside your healthcare team. It involves learning about your condition and treatments and adopting lifestyle behaviours that will benefit your arthritis and overall health. Self-management techniques can include things like:
- Contact your local Arthritis Office for more information and support services