Anya woke up one morning with a sore eye, pain and blurred vision. This eye inflammation at the age of 27 was the necessary evil that finally led to a diagnosis for Anya Ogden’s chronic, long term symptoms that had seemingly nothing to do with eyes. Anya suffered years of back pain, sore joints, and a painful tailbone, which she has experienced since she was 19.

“I popped into my optometrist to have a look at my eye, and he sent me to an ophthalmologist. While examining my eyes, he asked if I had ever suffered from back pain. After hearing the link between this particular eye condition, called uveitis, or iritis, and arthritis, it was as if someone had turned on a light in a dark room and suddenly the answer to my chronic pain seemed within reach,” she said.

The ophthalmologist referred Anya to see a rheumatologist who diagnosed her with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).

AS is a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine and sacroiliac joints of the lower back. Symptoms include chronic back pain and stiffness. It can also cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in other parts of the body, too, such as shoulders, hips, ribs, heels, hands, and feet. Sometimes the eyes are affected as well, and that’s what led to Anya’s diagnosis.

“The reason I think the doctors never diagnosed me before is that the back pain is usually experienced in the morning and eases with movement as the day goes on. That wasn’t the case for me. My pain got worse as the day went on, especially in my tailbone, and so the doctors never considered AS.”

Anya is now, for the last 6months, on medication that works and she feels like a new person. “It was as though I spent 15 years in a body that wasn’t mine.”

Anya is now a mum to four young children, including a set of twins. Apart from during three pregnancies and nursing four children after being diagnosed, Anya spent years on strong pain medication. During her childbearing years, she managed pain and discomfort by using heat pads and warm baths.

“People need to hear stories like mine so that we can prevent more people living with undiagnosed conditions. If I can change one life by sharing my story, then it was most definitely worth it,” she said.

Arthritis can affect anyone at any age, and new figures released in 2018 reveal that more than 670,000 people in New Zealand have a form of arthritis (osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and more than 140 other types), 48% of which are of working age.

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