The Differences Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis
Inflammatory conditions are notoriously hard to treat, and arthritis in particular can wreak havoc on physical health, mobility, and lifestyle. Rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two arthritic conditions that often get confused, leading to uncomfortable and frustrating consequences while you search for the right treatment. Although they are similar in a lot of ways, there are also a variety of differences that every sufferer should know about.
Although they’re both rheumatic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis differ in several important ways. To begin, they tend to progress in different areas of the body: while RA can affect a variety of joints in the limbs, AS primarily leads to inflammation and stiffening of the spine. Knowing some other key differences between the two conditions will help you and your doctor reach an accurate diagnosis sooner, so you can get relief for your symptoms and slow the progressive damage of the disease. These differences include:
- While RA is up to three times more common in women, AS tends to affect men much more often.
- AS targets the axial skeleton – the bones of the head, spine and torso – but RA flares often occur in the wrists, fingers, knees, ankles and other joints in the extremities.
- Most people experience the onset of AS symptoms between the ages of 20 and 30, while RA symptoms present after age 40 for the majority of patients.
Ankylosing spondylitis belongs to a category of arthritic conditions called spondyloarthropathies, conditions that inflame the joints in the spine. Although RA could be considered a spondyloarthropathy when it affects the vertebrae of the spine, AS is a “seronegative” spondyloarthropathy, which means the rheumatoid factor is not present. Since there is no rheumatoid factor, Ankylosing Spondylitis does not originate in the body in the same way as rheumatoid arthritis, and in turn, it requires a different approach to treatment.
Common Symptoms and Treatment Options
Although they are different in nature, the two syndromes share several symptoms, which can make diagnosis and treatment a bit difficult. Some of the common discomforts in both RA and AS include:
- Morning stiffness
- Fatigue and malaise
- Widespread Joint pain
- Cycle of flares and remissions
- Gastrointestinal reactions
While DMARDs play a very important role in a Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment plan, they are not effective for treating AS symptoms. Luckily, NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin, naxopren) can help soothe the pain of both conditions, and TNF alpha blocking drugs can help with the devastating inflammation in both diseases, too.
Both diseases can also cause painful symptoms in other areas of the body, from the eyes to the heart and lungs. However, each condition affects these organs in different ways, and so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis in order to avoid treating the wrong illness. Both conditions can be both physically damaging and emotionally draining, and in each case, early treatment is crucial for a better quality of life.