Mind your back: What may seem like your usual back pain can be Axial Spondyloarthritis


A mysterious backache could mean a lot of things. It could simply be from overuse or a small injury, or it could also be a telltale sign of Axial Spondyloarthritis.

Axial Spondyloarthritis is an inflammatory disease of the axial skeleton and it can cause significant pain and, possibly, complete disability if not treated. It is also a highly heritable disease, so families with a history of arthritis are at higher risk.

Axial Spondyloarthritis typically starts in early adulthood, even referred to by some as the “disease of the young.” Global studies reveal that there is an average diagnostic delay of 7 years for most patients, primarily because Axial Spondyloarthritis presents itself only as persistent pain in the lower back during the first few years. During this time, however, the disease would have already progressed, leading to irreversible damage.

It is for this reason that Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc. (J&J) has partnered with the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Rheumatology Association (PRA), and Axial Spondyloarthritis Association of the Philippines (ASAPh) to create greater awareness for Axial Spondyloarthritis, and encourage suspect patients to seek medical help.

The importance of catching the disease early
The lack of awareness among the public and the lack of familiarity with the disease among primary care providers have resulted in fewer referrals to specialists and delay in diagnosis of patients.

“Axial Spondyloarthritis is fairly common and so are its symptoms,” said Dr. Bernadette Manapat-Reyes, chair of the Philippine Rheumatology Association for Spondyloarthritis. “The most common symptom is prolonged pain in the lower back. Some people also experience pain in the hips, swelling of joints, episodes of eye inflammation, and even weight loss.”

“While there is no permanent cure for Axial Spondyloarthritis, its symptoms can be managed and the speed of its progression can be reduced with early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”

At best, Axial Spondyloarthritis can be managed with regular exercise and physical therapy. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, and injectable biologics can also be used to help stop inflammation in patients.

“Together with DOH, PRA, ASAPh, and J&J, we conducted a lay forum last July 22 entitled Inflammatory Back Pain: Ating Suriin, Ating Alamin! to educate more Filipinos about chronic and debilitating conditions such as Axial Spondyloarthritis. We frequently distribute reference materials too, so that more people would become aware of the complications that follow this chronic, inflammatory rheumatic disease if not acted upon immediately. It is also PRA and ASAPh’s plea to make medications more accessible to patients in need,” added Dr. Reyes.

“We know Axial Spondyloarthritis has an early onset, but life doesn’t have to stop when it happens,” said Dr. Erwin Benedicto, head of Medical Affairs at Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc. “If you have been experiencing symptoms of Axial Spondyloarthritis, it is very important that you see a specialist immediately. You shouldn’t delay this because the disease can be crippling if left unchecked.”

“Axial Spondyloarthritis is a lifelong condition that may affect you differently at different times. Creating a treatment plan with your rheumatologist can greatly help in dealing with the challenges that come with living with Axial Spondyloarthritis.”


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Gabriel

Introvert, wanderer, blogger, foodie, a hip-hop music writer, and one of the co-founders of a tech start-up company called GigsManila.