Ankylosing spondylitis - or ankylopoietic pelvispondylitis - is a genetic disease that affects the spine. It affects above all men and manifests itself around twenty years with pain, joint problems, heart problems. In its most severe forms it is very debilitating and can also affect the eyes, intestines and lungs.
The disease is a form of chronic inflammation, which originates from the point where the ligaments join the bone. Inflammation wears ligaments and the body replaces them with bone tissue. As the inflammation proceeds, more and more bone is formed which replaces the elastic tissue and limits the movements. When the process touches the spine, the vertebrae merge and form a single bone column. At this point, the damage is irreversible.
Ankylosing spondylitis is an ancient disease, perhaps the one Leopardi suffered from. Paleopathological studies have even revealed Egyptian mummies with damage compatible with the disease. Despite this, the first traces in the medical literature date back to 1559. Doctors have identified it as a distinct disease only in the mid-1800s. In the mid-1900s, X-rays allowed a better distinction compared to rheumatoid arthritis.
Even today it is unclear what the genetic cause of ankylosing spondylitis is. 96% of Caucasian patients have B27 protein on the surface of white blood cells. There should therefore be a genetic link, but it seems that environmental factors are important too.
The disease has important consequences on lifestyle: it makes it more difficult to work, the pain disturbs sleep and often also prevents driving. The often delayed diagnosis and the absence of a resolutive therapy contribute to making these people's lives even more difficult.