INTERVIEW: Imagine Dragons Frontman Dan Reynolds Reveals Physical Health Issues, Using His Voice to Advocate for Others
Grammy Award-winning band Imagine Dragons has earned legions of fans worldwide. In their massive success in such a short time, they have already garnered multi-platinum status, sold out tours and a string of chart topping songs. In fact, the band has recently become the first act with four songs to chart in Billboard’s Hot 100 for at Least a Year Each, thanks to “Thunder,” the third release from their latest album, Evolve,5 and received an astonishing 12 nominations for the 2018 Billboard Music Awards.
And they show no signs of slowing down. They recently released their new single and video “Next To Me.”
Besides being good musicians who write and play good songs, band members of Imagine Dragons are truly good people. Very inspiring and positive, even with the moments of health scares and personal trials that they’ve gone through.
Performing live has always been essential to Imagine Dragons, who are preparing to go back on the road again. The band will be returning to North America this summer to resume their Evolve tour, which will hit major cities including Hartford, Boston and New York.
Even while the band is in the middle of a busy tour schedule, Imagine Dragons lead vocalist Dan Reynolds continues his efforts to make a difference in the lives of others by supporting several causes, including his work as an advocate for a health condition that he himself lives with every day.
A form of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (or AS for short) is a life-long, painful and debilitating auto-inflammatory disease primarily affecting the spinal joints, although it may also affect other joints as well, including the neck and hips.1,2
Reynolds partnered with the Spondylitis Association of America and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation in 2016 as the host of This AS Life Live!, the first online talk show for people with AS by people with AS. For Reynolds, AS is personal—it took him many years to be properly diagnosed, and three of his brothers also live with AS. This is why he’s committed to raising awareness of the disease that impacts an estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. but remains relatively unknown.3,4
Dan was diagnosed with AS when he was 20 years old. Imagine Dragons was just gaining popularity when his symptoms first appeared, and the severe back pain made it difficult for him to perform on stage.
After finally receiving a proper diagnosis, he has been able to successfully manage his symptoms and get back to doing the things he loves most. Now, Dan is dedicated to raising awareness of AS and supporting the patient community.
I had the pleasure of talking to Dan about the band’s success, the state of his physical health, managing life on tour, the importance of patient support groups for health conditions such as AS, and more. Joining him was rheumatologist Dr. Hillary Norton, who also has AS. During our chat, she shared more about the signs and symptoms of AS, her unique perspective on the disease, and how people living with AS can successfully maintain a healthy lifestyle.
His feelings about his musical journey thus far:
Incredible. It’s every kid’s dream I think to play in a band when you get older. Music is everything to me. It’s been my passion since I was a little kid. So, I feel very lucky every day to be doing what I love.
On using his platform for advocacy:
I started a foundation recently called Love Loud Foundation to raise awareness about LGBTQ youth. Especially within the walls of orthodox religion and what we can do to provide a safer space for them.
“Believer” the documentary I’ve been working on the last year with @dargott and @LiveNationProds comes out on @HBO June 25th
— Dan Reynolds (@DanReynolds) April 17, 2018
On being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) and how he maintains a healthy lifestyle
I was in a lot a pain and mainly my lower back, hips, and I went to a doctor. They said, “Oh, I think it’s sciatica.” Sent me to a different doctor, did x-rays, different doctor, different doctor. A lot misdiagnoses. After a year, I finally went to a Rheumatologist and she said, “This is what it is, Ankylosing Spondylitis.” We did the work to lead up to that diagnosis and then got on a treatment plan I’m doing great now. In a very healthy place, between my diet, exercise, and treatment plan with my Rheumatologist, I’m really in a great place.
I have a great Rheumatologist, who I work very closely with to have a treatment plan that treats my Ankylosing Spondylitis also known as AS, in check. And it took me many different doctors and misdiagnoses to get to a proper rheumatologist. So, that’s why I’m a bit passionate about raising awareness for AS alongside with Novartis and Spondylitis Association of America, we have this campaign to help people know what AS is. So it’s not an invisible disease so that people are diagnosed quicker and yeah, that’s my goal, is to raise as much awareness as I can. We’ve been doing a series of videos called This AS Life Live! On this thisaslife.com, where I’m talking with people from the community, and talking about AS, and what they do in their lives to combat that… Tips and things like that.
Rheumatologist Dr. Hillary Norton shared more specifics about AS and the ins and outs of the disease.
On why AS remains relatively unknown and delays in diagnosis
People who suffer with AS, they’ve never even heard of it before. And so that lends itself to this long delay in diagnosis. And all that goes on during those years can be kind of scary. We’re trying to point people towards resources to help prevent that. But this comes on when people are young, in their 20s, when people develop back pain. So generally, they don’t seek care immediately. And when they do, they often see other physicians before seeing a Rheumatologist and really getting treated properly.
On the role proper diet and exercise play in maintaining physical health while living with AS
Oh, they play a huge role. Dan and I can tell you that whenever we get together as AS patients, we’re gonna talk about our workouts. Because exercise is very important for us to manage this. And exercise looks different for everybody with AS. Healthy eating, as he mentioned, is really important for all of us. So avoiding inflammatory foods like sugar, not smoking which has been connected with worsening of AS, getting enough rest, all of those healthy lifestyle things are crucial. We pay a bigger price when we don’t live a healthy life, and we have AS.
On the signs, symptoms, and next steps for people who suspect they may have the disease
The big difference is that this is inflammatory back pain, not mechanical back pain. So this is pain that is worse at night. It has a lot of morning stiffness. It tends to get better with activity. So if a young person comes down with back pain, it’s not going away, they’re having a lot of night pain, that raises some red flags. So I would say sites like stopas.org and thisaslife.com are really good places to start getting information.
If you think that you do have this, then seeing a Rheumatologist for the correct diagnosis is really important. Because there’s no one treatment plan for AS. Everybody’s different. So the approach is going to be different, and you’re going to work with your Rheumatologist to figure out how to manage this disease.
If you are someone you love is living with AS, know that there are options for managing the disease, and support available to help those affected. For more information on the condition, you can visit stopas.org. Additionally, visit Dan’s social support and awareness community for people living with AS at ThisASlife.com.
And of course, be sure to see Imagine Dragons out on tour this summer. Connect with Dan and the band on their website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube.
Spondylitis Association of America website. Overview of Ankylosing Spondylitis. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/Ankylosing-Spondylitis. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Arthritis Foundation Website. What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?. Available at https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/ankylosing-spondylitis/what-is-ankylosing-spondylitis.php. Accessed March 29, 2018
Reveille J. Epidemiology of Spondyloarthritis in North America. Am J Med Sci. 2011; 341(4): 284–286.
Spondylitis Association of America website. Spondy What? Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/. Accessed March 29, 2018.
MSN website. Hot 100 Chart Moves: Imagine Dragons Is First Act With Four Songs to Chart for at Least a Year Each. Available at https://www.msn.com/en-us/music/news/hot-100-chart-moves-imagine-dragons-is-first-act-with-four-songs-to-chart-for-at-least-a-year-each/ar-AAwK9EW . Accessed May 6, 2018.
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