This study sought to determine the prevalence, characteristics, relation to clinical features and evolution of aortic root disease and valve disease associated with ankylosing spondylitis (AKS). Aortic root disease and valve disease are common in patients with AKS, but their clinical and prognostic implications have not been well defined. Forty-four outpatients with AKS and 30 age- and gender-matched healthy volunteers underwent initial transesophageal echocardiography and rheumatologic evaluations. Twenty-five patients underwent clinical and echocardiographic follow-up 39+/-10 months later. Aortic root disease and valve disease were common in patients (82%) as compared with controls (27%; p < 0.001). Aortic root thickening, increased stiffness and dilatation were seen in 61%, 61% and 25% of patients, respectively. Valve thickening (41% for the aortic and 34% for the mitral valve) manifested predominantly (74%) as nodularities of the aortic cusps and basal thickening of the anterior mitral leaflet, forming the characteristic subaortic bump. Valve regurgitation was seen in almost half of patients, and 40% had moderate lesions. Except for the duration of AKS, aortic root disease and valve disease were unrelated to the activity, severity or therapy of AKS. During follow-up of 25 patients, in up to 24% new aortic root or valve abnormalities developed, in 12% existing valve regurgitation worsened significantly and in 20% abnormalities resolved. Twenty percent of patients developed heart failure, underwent valve replacement, had a stroke or died, as compared with 3% of control subjects. Aortic root disease and valve disease are common in patients with AKS, are unrelated to clinical features of AKS, can resolve or progress over time and are associated with clinically important cardiovascular morbidity.