MANILA -- A health expert on Tuesday urged the public not to neglect severe and prolonged neck and back pains as they can be symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a type of arthritis that attacks the spine.
"All of us will develop some sort of back pain. For example, if you're working in a sedentary position in the office, you are in an ergonomically challenging position or you carry heavy objects like construction or mechanical workers. But, there's a type of back pain that you need to take seriously, the one that is accompanied by fever and weight loss, and other red flags of AS," Philippine Rheumatology Association (PRA) board member, Dr. Evan Vista, said in a press briefing during World Ankylosing Spondylitis Day in Quezon City.
Vista said the symptoms of AS include recurring back pain, nocturnal back pain affecting sleep, bladder or bowel incontinence, bilateral lower extremity weakness and saddle anesthesia or feeling of numbness on the buttocks.
"Around one million out of 100 million Filipinos are (at) risk of AS. To say that a person has AS and not just simple back pain, we doctors follow a guideline for inflammatory back pain and these include chronic lower back pain that is more than three months, if you're less than 45 years old and HLA-B27 positivity," he added.
The HLA-B27 gene can be detected in the blood of most patients with AS.
Since AS usually starts as a regular back or neck pain, Vista said most Filipinos take pain relievers immediately instead of going to a specialist for a consultation.
"At first, AS patients' bodies respond to pain relievers and this makes them think that it's simple back pain when in fact they already have a bigger problem," he said.
Early diagnosis, treatment for AS patients
Vista said AS affects men more than women and it is "underdiagnosed" in the country.
"We don't have a local prevalence study, but the PRA is collecting information about AS patients so we might have urban prevalence data since half of the rheumatologists’ population is in the urban areas," he said.
While there is no cure for AS, most experts say that early diagnosis and treatment of the disease can help control the pain and stiffness and prevent or reduce the significant deformity in the patient's spine.
"As it affects men in their teens, in their productive years, it can impact the quality of life of the patients and affect the patient's family socio-economically, because AS also leads to other atrioventricular problems," Vista said.
Meanwhile, PRA Patient Advocacy Committee member Geraldine Zamora said AS cannot be acquired through an unhealthy lifestyle.
"Genes play a big factor in AS, and it is a common misconception that arthritis is caused by what the person ate or what the person did. This is due to his genes and infections or other diseases may have added to the condition," she said, noting that AS is not contagious. (PNA)