Finding a treatment for AS that works for you

For David Atkins, a 38-year-old teacher, actor, and father of three, finding the right treatment for ankylosing spondylitis (AS) has made all the difference. David has shared his treatment experiences in the hope that his story will help others who are suffering from AS.

After being diagnosed with AS at the age of 24, David tried a number of different medications. First, he used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. When the long-acting pills that he was using were discontinued, he had to switch to short-acting pills. He needed to take them every 3-4 hours, and he still suffered from pain when the medications wore off. He also tried methotrexate and sulfasalazine, which did not work well for him. Throughout his 20s, David's AS continued to get worse, and he struggled with pain, stiffness, and frustration.

But things changed for the better when David started a new medication called infliximab (Remicade®) in his early 30s.* For the first time, David found a treatment that really worked for him. However, infliximab, like any other drug has its share of side effects. But, knowing these side effects, David has nonetheless chosen to continue using the medication. Infliximab controlled his symptoms better than any other medication he had tried. His quality of life improved, and he was able to start enjoying his regular activities again. According to David, "Remicade has given me my life back." In fact, David's AS has improved so much since starting infliximab that he and his wife decided to have their third child a year later. David was also able to get more involved in his acting career.

Infliximab has also helped David learn to "forget that he has AS." He no longer needs to take frequent medication doses or carry a pocket full of medications everywhere he goes. Instead, he receives his treatment once every 7 weeks at a special infusion centre near his home, where the medication is given as an infusion into a vein in his arm. The entire visit takes a few hours. David prefers the infusions to injecting the drug himself because with an infusion, he can receive his treatment in a comfortable setting where a qualified nurse supervises his infusion, which makes him feel safe. Plus, since he only needs treatment every 7 weeks, infusions don't provide an unwelcome daily reminder of his condition.

David has helped many other AS sufferers cope with their condition, and he shares the following advice to help people live well with AS:

  • Develop your support system. David says that part of the reason he's done so well is his solid support system. Your family and friends can help you get through the bad days.
  • Find ways to make your life easier. You only have so much energy, so make sure you save your energy to focus on the things that are most important to you. Consider hiring someone to clean your house, cut your lawn, or deliver your groceries. David jokes that he has "team Dave" to help him out.
  • Choose your job wisely. David made the switch from acting to teaching to find a job that was more compatible with his AS. Teaching allows him to stay moving and gives him the luxury of being able to sit or stand as he needs to.
  • Stay flexible. David recommends that AS sufferers take time and effort every day to hold onto their mobility using stretching, physiotherapy, and hot tubs.
  • Exercise. By keeping in shape, you'll be better able to fight AS. David recommends using an exercise ball to focus on core muscles and to strengthen your back. He also enjoys swimming - it's the only place he feels free, because he's not fighting against gravity. Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor about which activities are appropriate for you.
  • Get involved in your treatment - the sooner the better. If you think you might have AS, talk to your doctor to find out for sure. Research your treatment options and discuss them with your doctor. Don't give up until you find a treatment that really works for you.

So if you have AS, or think you might, talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor can help you find a treatment option that works for you.

* Please note that this health feature describes one person's experience with AS and drug treatment. It is not intended to be representative of all people with AS or to provide any endorsements or recommendations regarding AS therapy.

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