Ankylosing Spondylitis At 22? Not A Problem For Ko Soe!

I’ve always been a brilliant student. After I completed my Bachelor’s degree in physics, I couldn’t wait to pursue a Master’s and even a PhD in the coming years. But since I have a family history of joint diseases, I more or less knew beforehand what the future could have in store for me. So, when I had an attack of monoarthritis in my right knee at 22 years of age, right before starting my Master’s degree at a prestigious university, I wasn’t surprised. I visited a doctor; there was no proper diagnosis made.

The problem escalated two years later, when I started experiencing an unbearable pain in my lower back region. This time, I decided to visit a physician who specializes in rheumatology. I was told that I had synovitis of both the knees, i.e., the lining of my knee joints had become inflamed and that there was tenderness in my left pelvic region. The X-ray showed that my right pelvic joint was fused. Because of genetics, my own immune system was attacking my cartilage and causing the damage. The pain was excruciating! I remember feeling the worst kind of stiffness that prohibited me from doing the simplest of tasks. My knees were starting to give up.

My disease activity score of 3 showed a high disease activity for ankylosing spondylitis. My doctor recommended starting with a biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drug. I started with the treatment immediately, because I was not going to let my pain stop me at such a young age. For three months, I took injections of a drug named adalimumab (40 mg), every two weeks along with methotrexate and a NSAID. I was positive that I would be cured but things didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted.

Four months after my last dose of treatment, I was back to square one. My back pain had returned, this time lasting for more than thirty minutes, especially in the morning. I was struggling to sit down or stand up, thanks to my limited (and painful) hip movements. My disease activity score for ankylosing spondylitis had now reduced merely to 2.3, still depicting a high disease activity, which scared me. I remember thinking ‘Will I ever feel like a normal young adult again? How many things will I miss out if this pain wins?’. I had a lot of fear and doubts within me, but I knew I couldn’t give up. I wouldn’t. I started with a second treatment, this time, a 50 mg etanercept injection.

And the effort paid off! Within 20 days, my pain shot down drastically, becoming virtually negligible. I was free to move the way I wanted. The stiffness in my joints was slowly becoming a stranger, never to be missed. I started to look forward to getting out of my bed in the morning simply because I could. I continued my treatment for another month, which ensured that my pain had disappeared completely. I could live my life with all the flexibility I wanted, passionately drowning myself in the theories of physics!

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