The Imagine Dragons lead singer talks candidly about his experience living with a painful ‘unseen’ autoimmune disease, ankylosing spondylitis, and raising awareness by raising his voice.
Share on PinterestImagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds. Image courtesy of ‘Monster Pain in the AS’
In 2015, Imagine Dragons front man Dan Reynolds took the mic in front of a stadium full of adoring fans. No, he wasn’t about to perform one of his band’s hits. Instead, he was getting ready to make a personal, vulnerable admission.
Reynolds was suffering from the chronic pain of ankylosing spondylitis (AS), an autoimmune disease that is a type of arthritis of the spine. He was ready to share his status with the world.
“This is the truth, I’ve never said this publicly ever, and I’m just going to say it tonight it because it’s just part of my life now. Does anybody out there suffer from any disease? Nobody wants to raise their hands,” Reynolds said to a few laughs and cheers.
The audience was hanging on every word. “I have something called ankylosing spondylitis. It’s an autoimmune disease. I’ve never spoken about it because, to be frank with you, I’ve been embarrassed. And tonight I’m gonna share it, because there’s probably other people out there who suffer from it, too.”
It was a big admission for Reynolds. Until that night at Leeds Arena in West Yorkshire, England, as part of the band’s “Smoke + Mirrors” tour, he’d never come forward with his diagnosis. Now, he was making himself the face of a condition that affects millions but doesn’t stand as a recognizable name to the public at large.
“I was diagnosed with AS in my early 20s so I’ve been dealing with [it] quite a while. It’s been a frustrating process and also educating for me, I guess. Not a lot of people know about it. It’s super hard to pronounce. It’s such a hidden disease that hasn’t been in the mainstream,” Reynolds, 31, told Healthline. “Finally, I spoke up about it at my show, and basically said, ‘well, this is part of my life.’ I wanted to start to live a little more, just be a little more human. It’s a big part of my story.”
Reynolds is currently serving as the face of Monster Pain in the AS, an ankylosing spondylitis awareness campaign from Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
Reynolds said that using his celebrity platform to “bring AS to the mainstream” was important to him because it demystifies a less-acknowledged disease and gives other people with chronic pain a sense that they aren’t alone.
Symptoms of AS include intense swelling, heat, redness, and chronic pain in the spine as well as the area where the bottom of the spine and the pelvis meet, according to the National Institutes of Health.
It tends to impact men more severely and runs in families.
The back pain and stiffness most typically associated with the condition tend to start in late adolescence or a person’s early adult years. As time goes on, it can fuse a person’s vertebrae together, limiting movement, the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association reported.
Dr. Suleman Bhana, a rheumatologist at Crystal Run Healthcare in Middletown, NY, who has been working with the campaign, told Healthline that the condition is less rare than many people think.
He said AS affects about 2 million people throughout the United States, but that number could be even higher, as many people who have it might not even realize it.
“It’s not as easy as diagnosing something like appendicitis. This requires a lot of thought of where the pain is originating from. It can affect the whole body, not one organ, specifically,” Bhana explained. “We look at the whole body and see where joint pain may have a connection to eye symptoms and skin symptoms and bowel symptoms. Arriving at a diagnosis may take time… before a person can put a name to what is going on with their body.”
Reynolds recalls the first time he experienced unexplainable pain in his early 20s. He remembers going hiking along a canyon in Los Angeles and feeling a deep, stabbing pain in his thigh joints and hips.
“It made no sense. I had no point of injury. Over the next week it got worse and worse. At nighttime it was bad. Then, in the morning, I would have bad morning stiffness for hours, to the extent where I wouldn’t want to get out of bed,” Reynolds recalled. “I had X-rays to figure this out — this was before our band was even signed. I remember living in my studio…