A large attendance from across the midlands turned out last Wednesday (6 November) for an information evening in Athlone about ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

The inflammatory arthritis affects 4,000-6,000 people in Ireland and is most frequently diagnosed in young men.

The talk by Dr Killian O’Rourke, consultant rheumatologist at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore, was part of an awareness campaign about the condition organised by Arthritis Ireland.

Dr O’Rourke outlined that some of the early signs and symptoms of the condition include pain and stiffness in the lower back and buttocks; early morning stiffness; fatigue and poor form; pain and tenderness in the ribs, shoulder blades, hips, thighs and heels; weight loss; fever; mild to moderate anaemia; inflammation of the bowel; and iritis or uveitis.

As ankylosing spondylitis advances, it can affect a person’s ability to work. It is estimated that a third of people with AS may be unable to work at all. Around one in six may need to make changes to their working life in order to continue working.

While it’s not yet known what causes ankylosing spondylitis, there can be a genetic element. However, the condition isn’t passed directly from a parent to their children.

Head of communications and advocacy at Arthritis Ireland, Brian Lynch, said: “When people are informed about their condition, they are better able to manage the day-to-challenge of living with it. Since ankylosing spondylitis affects people when they are in the prime of their lives, it can be hugely disruptive in terms of their education, careers, relationships, past times.

“Our work as a patient organisation is about educating people so that they are aware of symptoms and can take early action. Equally, it is about helping people regain control of their lives through education and support,” Lynch said.

Living with Ankylosing Spondylitis is supported by Novartis.