Doctors yesterday urged people who have had lower back pain for more than three months to get examined for ankylosing spondylitis (AS) — a form of arthritis that causes long-term inflammation of the lower spine.
Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology Center physician Huang Kuang-Yung (黃光永) said a 30-year-old man surnamed Wang (王) played tennis and swam regularly, but began experiencing frequent lower back pain four years ago.
Wang at first thought it was a sports injury, but the pain continued even after he took pain killers and underwent rehabilitation. The lower back pain continued to worsen and he sometimes felt severe pain in his whole back when he sneezed.
After finally being referred to the department of rheumatology, Wang was diagnosed with AS, Huang said.
Up to 70 percent of AS patients did not seek medical attention when symptoms first occurred and nearly 50 percent of people in the high-risk group for AS experienced lower back pain for more than three months without associating it with AS, a survey conducted by Ankylosing Spondylitis Caring Society showed.
Many AS patients ignore the symptoms, but late treatment can sometimes progress into a twisted spine, which could limit the ability to move freely, Huang said.
AS is a disease associated with the immune system and is generally found in men aged 20 to 40, but its cause is still unknown, Taiwan Rheumatology Association director Tsai Wen-chan (蔡文展) said.
In the early stages, patients commonly experience stiffness and pain in the lower back in the early morning, usually for about three to four months, but many people ignore such symptoms, thinking that back pain is a common physical condition they can relieve by resting, he said.
The average time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis of AS is about five years, Tsai added.
The survey also showed that AS awareness among men aged 20 to 40 is very low, Ankylosing Spondylitis Caring Society director-general Kao Cheng (高正) said.
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