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Your Healthcare Team

There are multiple specialists that someone with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) may see to help manage their disease.

Rheumatologist

A rheumatologist is a specialist who has received extra training and certification in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that affect the muscles, skeleton, and immune system. The diseases that rheumatologists treat are commonly called rheumatic diseases. These conditions affect the joints, muscles, and bones. A rheumatologist is frequently the type of doctor who will diagnose someone with AS, although the individual may first be seen by a primary care doctor who will refer them to a rheumatologist.1

Rheumatologists gather information through a physical exam and medical history. Blood tests may be ordered to find inflammatory proteins or antibodies. They may also use imaging, such as x-ray, ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Rheumatologists frequently talk with patients about their medications to treat conditions like AS, as well as other ways to improve their quality of life.1

Physical therapist

A person with AS may see a physical therapist to learn ways to maintain their flexibility and mobility. Physical therapists are highly trained and licensed professionals with expertise in helping people reduce pain and improve or restore mobility. In addition to using exercises, physical therapists can create an individual plan to keep people active.2

Respiratory therapist

Because AS can affect the joints between the spine and the ribs or the joints between the ribs and the breastbone, it can affect the flexibility of the chest cavity and make it difficult to fully expand the chest cavity or take deep breaths.3 Researchers have found that people with AS can improve their respiratory function with therapy.4 A respiratory therapist is specially trained to assess and treat acute and chronic breathing disorders.5

Ophthalmologist

Between 30-40% of people with AS will experience uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, at some time during the course of their condition.6,7 An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system and in the prevention of eye disease and injury. Ophthalmologists have the training and experience to diagnose, treat and manage all eye and visual problems.8 People with AS who experience any symptoms of uveitis, including redness, pain, blurry vision, or sensitivity to light, should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist.7 Treatment of uveitis is important to maintain vision and includes medication to decrease inflammation and to relieve symptoms.

Orthopedic surgeon

In some cases of AS, surgery may be recommended to relieve severe joint damage. An orthopedic surgeon specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. In addition to joint replacement surgeries, orthopedic surgeons treat bone fractures and degenerative conditions like osteoporosis, which are possible complications of AS.9

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2019
  1. What is a rheumatologist? American College of Rheumatology. Available at https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Health-Care-Team/What-is-a-Rheumatologist. Accessed 1/9/19.
  2. Who are physical therapists? American Physical Therapy Association. Available at http://www.apta.org/AboutPTs/. Accessed 1/9/19.
  3. How is a person affected? Spondylitis Association of America. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/Possible-Complications. Accessed 1/9/19.
  4. Jandric S. THU0390 Effect of rehabilitation on the chest expansion in patients with ankylosing spondylitis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 2017;76:354.
  5. What is a respiratory therapist. Respiratory Therapist Licence. Available at https://www.respiratorytherapistlicense.com/what-is-a-respiratory-therapist/. Accessed 1/9/19.
  6. Deschênes J. Ophthalmologic manifestations of ankylosing spondylitis. Medscape. Available at https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1193119. Accessed 12/27/18.
  7. Iritis or anterior uveitis. Spondylitis Association of America. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/Possible-Complications/Iritis-Uveitis. Accessed 12/27/18.
  8. What are the differences between ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians? Digital Journal of Ophthalmology, Harvard. Available at http://www.djo.harvard.edu/site.php?url=/patients/pi/439. Accessed 1/9/19.
  9. What is an orthopaedic surgeon? American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Available at https://www7.aaos.org/member/directory/definition.htm. Accessed 1/9/19.