Gout is one of the most painful, inflammatory forms of arthritis and affects over 11 million Americans. Most people think gout is caused by drinking too much alcohol and eating too many rich foods. But the sudden, severe joint swelling and pain occurs when there is excess of uric acid in the body.
What causes gout?
If you have high levels of uric acid in your blood, you may have a condition called hyperuricemia. Uric acid comes from the breakdown of substances called purines which are found in our body and the foods we eat. Normally, uric acid dissolves in the blood, and the kidneys get rid of it when you go to the bathroom. An excess of uric acid occurs when your produces too much or not enough is eliminated. When a person eats too much food high in purines it can also increase the uric acid levels which can cause gout attacks.
Gout often affects the big toe, but can also affect other joints including fingers, thumbs, knees, ankles and elbows. If left untreated, gout can lead to permanent organ damage and destruction of tissue. Being a part of the metabolic syndrome, gout can also can increase your risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke and kidney failure.
Risk factors for gout
Your chances are getting gout are higher if you are:
- Over 40 years old
- Family history of gout
- Overweight or obese
- Use certain medications, such as diuretics and aspirin
- Drink alcohol, especially beer
- Eat or drink foods high in fructose and in purines
How to prevent a gout attack
Most often, gout has to do with our diet and what we are eating. It’s best to stay clear of certain foods when you have high uric acid or have had gout attacks in the past.
Here are some tips of what you can do when a gout attack starts to ease the pain of the attack and reduce the risk of others.
- Drink lots of water
- Limit or avoid alcohol
- Apply ice to the affected joint
- Eat a healthy diet and limit your intake of meat, fish and poultry which are high in purines
When to see a doctor
Treating gout can be a challenge. Most patients with gout have not received proper diagnosis or been treated adequately to control hyperuricemia and prevent complications such as destructive gouty arthritis, chronic kidney disease, or cardiovascular complications. Fortunately, most people can manage their symptoms with certain medications to treat gout and can help control uric acid levels.
While gout may seem like something that you can manage, it’s best to see your healthcare provider and get it treated right away before inflammation and pain turn into more serious injury or disease.
Ekaterina Soforo, MD, RhMSUS, is a rheumatology specialist at HFM Lakeshore Orthopaedics with over 20 years of expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of gout. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Soforo, call (920) 320-5241.