Most of us have heard of gout or have had a friend or family member complain about it. However, do we really know what gout is, what causes it and how it can be treated? Let’s take a look at the main causes, symptoms and treatment of this condition.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. A gout attack or acute gout occurs when levels of uric acid in the blood increases. The body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines. These are substances which are found naturally in the body, but can also include foods such as steak, seafood and any organ meat. Other substances that can increase levels of uric acid include alcohol such as beer and beverages which contain fructose.
Normally uric acid dissolves in the blood and passes through the kidneys into the urine, however, sometimes the body produces too much uric acid or the kidneys excrete too little uric acid and this creates a build-up. This causes sharp and needle-like urate crystals to form in a joint or surrounding tissue and it is this which causes the swelling and pain.
Gout attacks occur without prior warning and mostly at night. There are various symptoms to look out for such as:
- Severe joint pain – Gout usually affects the large joint of the big toe, however it can also affect the hands, feet, ankles, knees and wrists.
- The discomfort after a gout attack can linger for a few days or a few weeks. As the gout attacks continue it is likely that the pain will last for a longer period of time and start affecting more joints.
- The joints affected by the gout will become inflamed, red, warm and tender.
- It may become difficult to move the joints as the gout attacks continue.
You are more likely to suffer from gout if you have high levels of uric acid in your body. Factors which can increase these levels of uric acid include:
- Diet- reduce the amount of seafood and meat that you consume, as well as alcohol and fructose beverages as mentioned above.
- If you are overweight your body produces more uric acid and as a result the kidneys have a more difficulty excreting it and this increases your risk of gout. So exercise regularly and stay healthy and fit to reduce risk of gout.
- Certain medical conditions increase the risk of gout and these include diabetes, heart and kidney diseases and untreated high blood pressure.
- Certain medications can also increase the risk of gout and these include medication used for high blood pressure, aspirin and anti–rejection drugs which are prescribed for those who have undergone an organ transplant.
- A family history of gout can increase your risk in the future.
- Gender and age can affect the risk of developing gout. Men are more likely to develop gout, as women have lower levels of uric acid. However, after menopause the levels of uric acid increase in women. Men between the ages of 30 and 50 are more likely to develop gout, whilst women are more likely to develop symptoms after menopause.
- Research suggests that people who have undergone recent surgery or trauma have a higher risk of developing gout.
- Stay hydrated and increase your water intake.
Gout which is left untreated can worsen and can cause joint damage in the future. There are various medications that the doctor can prescribe to help treat the symptoms of gout and prevent future attacks. Please consult a doctor if you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms.