Gout is a condition with a funny name that sounds like something from the Middle Ages. However, to the millions of people in the U.S. who currently suffer from it, it’s in no way humorous.
In fact, gout is a form of arthritis, an extremely painful one that often affects the joint at the base of the big toe. However, it can also attack the knees and ankles, and the pain can be extreme.
What is gout?
Gout is caused by a certain type of chemical called purines. These compounds occur in all living things, but some foods and beverages contain more than others. This is metabolized into another chemical called uric acid, which is normally filtered out by the kidneys and eliminated in urine.
However, when people ingest too much of this substance or can’t process it well, uric acid builds up in the bloodstream. This can go undetected for a long time with no symptoms whatsoever. Eventually, though, it may form needlelike crystals that settle in the joints, causing a great deal of pain.
A gout flare-up can happen suddenly, making the affected joint swollen and feeling as though it’s on fire. It can interfere with sleep—the weight of a sheet may even be intolerable—and normal activities.
Most gout attacks get better in about a week, and another episode may not occur for months or longer. However, if the causes of gout aren’t dealt with, the attacks can progress to the point where they last longer and occur more often. Over a period of years, gout can permanently damage the joints if left untreated.
What causes gout?
There are several risk factors for gout. These include lifestyle, other health conditions and genetics. Let’s take a look at each.
Lifestyle. Diet is a definite contributor to gout. Certain foods and beverages contain more purines than others, and it’s recommended these be avoided by people with high uric acid in their blood. Foods that are very high in purines include red meat, and especially organ meats and game meats, which usually have a lot of fat in them. Scallops, shellfish, sardines and a few other types of fish are also very high in purines. Yeast is big culprit too, as is the high fructose corn syrup present in soda.
However, one of the biggest triggers for gout is beer, which not only contains yeast, but also contains alcohol and impedes the body from eliminating the uric acid in the bloodstream.
Being overweight is a known risk factor for gout as well.
Genetics. Men are much more likely than women to develop gout, frequently experiencing the onset between the ages of 30 and 50, but women also become more prone to it after menopause.
There also seems to be a genetic link, with people having relatives with the condition being more likely to develop it.
Other health conditions. Gout occurs more often in combination with other health conditions like kidney or heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
In addition, certain medications, like the diuretic “water pills” often used to treat high blood pressure, can make it worse.
A physician will take your medical history to see what risk factors may be present, examine your joint and perform a blood test to look for a high level of uric acid. You may also get an imaging test as part of the evaluation process.
However, one of the best ways to be absolutely sure of a gout diagnosis is to withdraw some of the fluid from the affected joint and look at it under a microscope to see if crystals of uric acid are present.
Treatments for gout
Some of these things you can do yourself, and others require a doctor to prescribe or recommend.
Change your diet. Stick to plants oils, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, go with low-fat dairy products and drink water. Coffee is also fine. However, you’ll want to stay away from fatty meat, sugary drinks and alcohol, particularly beer.
Control your weight. Aside from changing your diet, try to develop an exercise program you can stick with. It doesn’t have to be marathon running or rock climbing—walking, yoga, stretching exercises and other low impact activities can have a real benefit.
NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are available over-the-counter and can be useful for reducing inflammation and pain.
Prescription meds. There are a number of drugs that can help reduce the amount of uric acid in the blood, although they may not help with the pain of a flare-up. Because each person’s body is different, your physician will evaluate which is the best for you.
Gout is one type of arthritis that has a good prognosis. However, you need a specialist to help recommend appropriate treatments. If you’re tired of the intense pain of gout and need some professional assistance, consult the joint experts at Flexogenix®. We specialize in the most advanced non-surgical joint treatments and are dedicated to improving your quality of life and health.