The chronic inflammatory disease of the spine in which the vertebral bodies grow together like a bamboo starting from lower to upper segments was described first by Dr. Wladimir Bechterew from St.Petersburg at beginning of last century and is know as Bechterew's Disease in Europe and as Ankylosing Spondylitis in North America. This condition is belongs to the rheumatic diseases and begins at the age of 15 and continues until 40. Males are affected 6—10 times more often than females. In Germany about 120,000 people are affected.
First sign is a stiffness in the morning especially in the lower back region that disappears during the day but becomes worse as the disease progresses. After months or years deep low back pain occurs with radiation to buttock and upper legs. Between three and five o´clock sleep can be painfully disturbed. Rising can help. Also during the day pain can occur especially when coughing, sneezing, pressing or lifting.
During the course of the disease, it can suddenly worsen within 5 years or take over 30 years, wherein all joints of the spine experience inflammatory changes, leading to cartilage and disc degradation and the bones growing together. The entire spinal column fuses. In later stages a pronounced humpback develops, bending of the thoracic spine foward in a fused state. Shoulders are pulled forward and often the head can not be raised.
The origin of ankylosing spondylitis is not known. It is known that like in chronic polyarthritis there is s hereditary component and that an aberrant immune system is involved.