Rheumatologist and Back Pain Specialist – living with AS – Interview

Rheumatologist and Back Pain Specialist – living with AS – Interview

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Up to 80% of people in the United States will experience back pain at some point in their lives, and different causes could be contributing to the underlying source of pain.1

AxSpA is an inflammatory arthritis of the spine characterized by chronic inflammatory back pain.It is also characterized by symptoms such as low back pain at night, fatigue, and morning stiffness that can affect walking, dressing, bathing, eating, and other activities of daily living.2


  • Approximately 1.7 million people in the US are living with spondyloarthritis (SpA), including axSpA and related conditions; however, because it is underdiagnosed, that number may be higher.3,4
  • There are two forms of axSpA: AS and nr-axSpA.5
  • The road to diagnosis for AS sufferers is long and painful, with an average range of 7-10 years from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis.6
  • Nr-axSpA is more prevalent in women, who tend to develop pain in the hips, neck, and knees, whereas AS is more prevalent in men, who tend to develop pain in the lower back and spine.7,8
  • While it’s believed that men are more likely than women to develop AS, symptoms present differently, and AS is not commonly looked for in women. Therefore, the ratio of men to women with AS may not be as high as the evidence suggests.9
  • Family history may be a risk factor for developing axSpA.10

Join me in a recent interview

with Rheumatologist Dr. Hillary Norton, who has the AS form of axSpA, as she discussed the signs and symptoms of axSpA, provided her unique perspective on the disease, and shared advice to help patients get to the correct diagnosis.

She also discussed how the Monster Pain in the AS campaign is helping to shed light on this condition and provide patients with important tools and resources to help determine if their back pain is mechanical or inflammatory.

Dr. Notron was joined by Jill, who discussed her journey to diagnosis and the importance of advocating for yourself in order to get the help that you need.

See the entire interview here:

For more information, please visit monsterpainintheas.com


While Dr. Hillary Norton first displayed symptoms of AS in her 20s, it wasn’t until she developed a severe case of iritis during her residency training in her early 30s that she was diagnosed with the disease.

Upon her diagnosis, Dr. Norton initially declined treatment, refusing to accept that she had a chronic disease. However, over the next few years the pain in her back progressed, making everyday activities and some of the things she loved most, like running, increasingly difficult. At times, Dr. Norton had trouble with stairs, and was unable to get out of bed on her own for several years. Dr. Norton’s personal experience inspired her to specialize in rheumatology: she felt her experience would allow her to better connect with patients.

Today, Dr. Norton runs her own practice out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and sees many patients with AS, most of whom have never heard of the disease prior to their diagnosis. She strives to increase awareness of AS so those who are not yet or are newly diagnosed can understand the signs and symptoms, the options for managing the disease, and the support available to help those affected know they are not alone.



Before her diagnosis, Jill, a sales manager for large food processing plants, was the quintessential “supermom”: she balanced 50-hour work weeks and demanding business travel while raising her two toddlers. However, her busy lifestyle came to a halt when she was diagnosed with AS in fall 2013.

Though she was originally diagnosed with AS, her rheumatologist later reclassified her diagnosis as nr-axSpA following the release of the American College of Rheumatology’s updated guidance. Jill continues to be an advocate not only for her health, but for other patients as an active board member of the Spondylitis Association of America. She offers support through phone conversations with newly diagnosed patients.

Jill wants to continue to support her community by sharing her story to inspire other patients to take charge of their treatment and health.


1.      ACAToday.org. Back pain facts and statistics. https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-%20Wellness-Information/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics. Accessed March 24, 2021.

2.      Arthitis.org. What is ankylosing spondylitis? https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/ankylosing-spondylitis/what-is-ankylosing-spondylitis.php. Accessed March 24, 2021.

3.      Strand V, Singh JA. Evaluation and management of the patient with suspected inflammatory spine disease. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92:555-564.

4.      Reveille JD, Witter JP, Weisman MH. Prevalence of axial spondylarthritis in the United States: estimates from a cross-sectional survey. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2012;64(6):905-910. doi:10.1002/acr.21621.

5.      Arthritis.org. Ankylosing spondylitis. https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/ankylosing-spondylitis. Accessed March 24, 2021.

6.      Shaikh SA. Ankylosing spondylitis: recent breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2007;51(4):249-260.

7.      Strand V, Singh JA et al. Patient burden of axial spondyloarthritis. J Clin Rheumatol. 2017;23(7):383-391.

8.      Wright GC, Kaine J, Deodhar A. Understanding differences between men and women with axial spondyloarthritis. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2020;50(4):687-694.

9.      NIAMS.nih.gov. What is ankylosing spondylitis? https://www.niams.nih.gov/sites/default/files/catalog/files/ankylosing_spondylitis_ff.pdf. Accessed March 24, 2021.

10.    Spondylitis.org. Diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. https://www.spondylitis.org/Ankylosing-Spondylitis/Diagnosis. Accessed March 24, 2021.

Interview is courtesy: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation



Cynthia Tait

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