Spondylitis? What is that?

Spondylitis is a name given to a group of diseases that are a form of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affect the spine, although other joints and organs can become involved. Spondylitis normally affects younger people - unlike some other kinds of arthritis. When it occurs before the age of seventeen it is called juvenile spondylitis, or sometimes juvenile ankylosing spondylitis, depending on the diagnosis.

When spondylitis occurs before the age of seventeen, it typically causes pain and inflammation in the joints in the lower part of the body, for example, the pelvis, hips, knees and ankles. Other areas of the body can also be affected, such as the spine, eyes, skin and bowels. Fatigue and a feeling of tiredness are very common.

How common is it?

You may also feel angry, scared, confused, or frustrated when you are diagnosed with spondylitis. These feelings are completely normal! But remember, you are not alone!

Juvenile spondylitis accounts for about 20% of all types of childhood arthritis, and occur in as many as 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 young people. It usually begins in the teen years, generally after puberty.

What is the cause?

The cause is unknown. However, we do know that those who inherit a gene called HLA-B27 from one of their parents with a family history of spondylitis are more likely to develop the illness than others. Since HLA-B27 is also found in people who will never get spondylitis, it cannot be used to make a diagnosis. Moreover, we know that other genes contribute to the complicated picture of who will develop spondylitis. Sometimes symptoms of these diseases are triggered after an infection of the intestinal or genitourinary tract, although in many cases there is no previous infection.

Is there a cure?

Although there is no known cure, the good news is that there is much that can be done to help through proper management. To that end, it is very important to have a correct diagnosis made as quickly as possible. This is the role of the pediatric rheumatologist, who is a physician with special training in arthritis in children and teens.

How long does it last? Will it get worse?

Although spondylitis is a chronic disease, the duration and severity varies in each person. It is difficult to predict a long-term outcome for this disease, especially in its early stages. The disease can sometimes last for months or years and then go into periods of remission (when the patient seems "cured"). It can also persist into adulthood.

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