Evaluation and Management of the Patient With Suspected Inflammatory Spine Disease
Axial spondyloarthritis (AxSpA) is a chronic inflammatory rheumatic disease characterized by inflammatory back pain (IBP) that manifests in childhood, late adolescence, or early adulthood. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and nonradiographic AxSpA represent 2 ends of the AxSpA spectrum. Diagnosis can be challenging because patients develop IBP that may not be associated with radiographic changes in the sacroiliac joints. Patients early in the course of disease are estimated to have at least the same level of disease activity and pain as patients with established disease; thus, they could benefit substantially from earlier diagnosis. Although the recent use of magnetic resonance imaging and its inclusion in diagnostic criteria has enhanced the identification of early AxSpA, improvement in early diagnosis has not been consistently reported across all studies. Limited knowledge of the continuum of AxSpA disease manifestations and lack of recognition of IBP in primary practice may contribute to this. Implementing a referral strategy that identifies patients with IBP for additional testing and assessment may lead to better recognition of early signs and symptoms of AxSpA, thereby offering the potential for improved patient outcomes. This review presents an overview of the epidemiology, clinical characteristics, and burdens of AxSpA, followed by a case presentation outlining approaches to the evaluation and management of a patient with suspected inflammatory spine disease.