Shout about Gout! Causes and Prevention
Gout has a bad reputation, often closely linked with alcoholics and those who overindulge in rich foods. Known in the past as the “kings disease” it causes crippling pain and disability. These days we understand a lot more about gout and we know that you don’t have to be a heavy drinker or over-eater to suffer with it.
What is it?
Gout is known as a crystal arthropathy which an inflammatory arthritis caused by deposits of crystals in the joints. High levels of uric acid in the blood cause crystal formation and uric acid is formed by the breakdown of certain foods and cells that contain purines. Gout will often affect the foot joints including the big toe and around the mid-foot area but can be known to affect the hands as well. When you are having a gouty attack, the affected joint will swell, become very red, hot and painful and if the joint affected is in the foot, you will have difficulty walking. The swelling and pain will usually last 3-4 days.
How do I get it?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to gout. The more risk factors you have, the higher the chance.
Family history of gout
Age over 45 years (though gout can affect anyone of any age)
Men suffer more frequently than women though post-menopause sees an increase in incidence in women
Previous injury to a joint
Some medications such as water pills (diuretics) and drugs used in transplant patients
Chronic health issues such as high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease and diabetes
A diet high in fructose
Along with the above risk factors, every person who is affected by gout will also have one or more triggers that bring on a gouty attack. These triggers are different in everybody so it’s worth discovering which ones affect you so you can manage your attacks better.
Alcohol – for some it only takes a small amount to bring on gout and for others it is excessive or binge drinking, especially beer
Starting gout specific medications
Surgery or sudden illness that leads to inactivity
Dieting especially high-protein diets
Purine-rich foods such as red meat, shell fish, organ meat and drinks and food sweetened with corn syrup
(Information taken from www.gouteducation.org)
If you think you may be having a gouty attack, seek medical assistance as soon as possible – your pain can be managed much better the earlier you get treatment. Usually the initial treatment will be anti-inflammatories, both steroidal and non-steroidal, and advice on rest, ice packs and avoiding the triggers listed above. After your initial attack, you may go on medication to prevent another attack as well as a ‘gout diet’.
The more gouty attacks you have, the more severe they will become with increased crystal deposits in the joint and subsequent joint destruction. Therefore it is important to prevent gout as much as is possible.
If you think you might have gout, see your GP for assessment, blood tests and imaging.