My dad has been struggling with gout for about 10 years now. Having a swollen and sore joint from time to time caused some disruption in his life when it occurred, but he still carried on living the same lifestyle, disregarding the warning and causes of gout. As he is always working and is under constant pressure he doesn’t get to exercise as much as he should or eat enough healthy meals. He usually gets lunch on the road and only goes to the gym once every two weeks. His priorities and lifestyle, unfortunately, lead to him having a severely swollen elbow from gout and it became so serious that he had to have surgery in November last year. I wanted to find out how I can help him avoid or at least reduce the causes of gout and realized we should all be more aware of what is going on in our joints and bodies.
In today’s busy lifestyle we don’t always have time to eat as healthy as we need to or even want to. That is unfortunately why one of the most common problems arising amongst men and women of all ages these days is gout. Gout is a form of arthritis that can cause a lot of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints. One of the characteristics of gout is that it can occur suddenly with severe pain, frequently at the joint at the bottom of the big toe.
Sometimes a gout attack can be so painful that it can wake you up at night flaring up in the big toe. The affected joint will feel as if it is on fire, hot, swollen and very tender. Gout is not a constant pain, it can come and go, but the cause needs to be addressed as soon as possible. There are ways to prevent, reduce and manage the symptoms of gout.
Gout attacks often occur at night and can appear suddenly. Symptoms are:
- Intense joint pain. Gout typically affects the large joint of your big toe, although it can arise in any joint in the body. Other areas of joints commonly affected include the fingers, wrists, knees, elbows and ankles. The pain is usually worst within the first 4 to 12 hours after gout begins.
- Inflammation and redness. All the joints affected will become red, swollen, tender and warm.
- Remaining discomfort. Gout can linger after most of the severe pain has subsided. Discomfort in joints can last from a few days to a few weeks. Attacks that arise later are likely to last longer and affect more joints.
- Limited range of motion. As gout develops or grows, you may not be able to move your joints normally.
Gout is formed when urate crystals accumulate in your joint and causes the inflammation and intense pain of a gout attack. Urate is a salt or ester of uric acid. Urate crystals occurs when you have high levels of uric acid in your blood.
Uric acid is produced by your body when it breaks down purines, which is substances that are found naturally in your body.
Unfortunately, most of the foods we like contain purines, for example steak, organ meats and seafood. Alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine, and drinks sweetened with fruit sugar (fructose) on the other hand increases the levels of uric acid in the body.
Uric acid is normally dissolved in your blood and passes through your kidneys into your urine. However, sometimes the body either produces too much uric acid or your kidneys excrete too little uric acid. This is why you start feeling the needle-like feeling of urate crystals in a joint or surrounding tissue. The uric acid builds up, forming that sharp pain feeling like needles are poking your joint, causing pain, inflammation and swelling.
You should monitor your body and see your doctor if severe pain suddenly occurs in your affected joint(s). It is very important not to leave gout untreated because it can cause joint damage in the long run.
If the affected joint is hot and inflamed and you have a fever it is best to seek medical care immediately as it could be a sign of infection.
Gout can develop if you have high levels of uric acid in your body. Factors that increase the uric acid level in your body include:
- Diet. Maintaining a healthy diet with lots of vegetables for your overall health is always important. You should refrain from consuming lot of meat, seafood, beverages sweetened with fruit sugar (fructose) and alcohol, especially beer, as these increase levels of uric acid, which increase your risk of gout.
- Obesity. Being overweight causes your body to produce more uric acid and can cause your kidneys to struggle in eliminating uric acid. Help your body by losing a bit of weight this year.
- Medical conditions. Certain diseases and conditions increase your risk of gout. Make sure that you consult your GP to maintain good health. Untreated high blood pressure and chronic conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart and kidney diseases all influence your body and can increase the risk of gout.
- Family history of gout. Your risk of developing gout will be higher if other members of your family have had gout as this disease can be generic.
- Age and sex. Men are diagnosed with gout more often than women. Men are often also diagnosed much earlier in life with gout, normally between the ages of 30 and 50. Women usually have lower uric acid levels than men, but after menopause women’s uric acid levels increase to a similar level.
- Recent surgery or trauma. Having recent surgery or experiencing trauma has been linked with an increased risk of developing a gout attack.
People with gout can develop more severe conditions, such as:
- Recurrent gout. Signs and symptoms of gout can be recurrent for some, but other people never experience gout again after it has been treated. The key is to treat it as soon as it flares up. It can arise several times a year, but medications may help prevent gout attacks in people with recurrent gout. Gout can cause erosion and destruction of a joint if it is left untreated.
- Advanced gout. According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated gout may cause deposits of urate crystals to form under the skin in nodules called tophi (TOE-fie). Tophi can develop in several areas such as your fingers, hands, feet, elbows or Achilles tendons along the backs of your ankles. Tophi usually aren’t painful, but they can become swollen and tender during gout attacks.
- Kidney stones. Kidney stones can be caused by urate crystals that have collected in the urinary area of people with gout. Medication can be taken to reduce the risk of kidney stones.
How to prevent gout
When a gout attack doesn’t occur, use these guidelines to help prevent gout attacks:
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is key, especially in today’s busy lifestyle. Drink plenty of water and limit the amount of sweetened beverages you drink. Drinks with high-fructose corn syrup should be avoided.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. Research has shown that beer increases the risk of gout, especially in men. It is advisable to ask your doctor if you can have any amount or a certain type of alcohol if you suffer from gout.
- Choose low-fat dairy products for a good source of protein. Low-fat dairy products can help fight against the effects of gout.
- Limit your intake of meat, fish and poultry. Keep track of your body’s response to the type of meat you consume and how much of it your body can tolerate.
My dad has been doing much better after his operation and has adjusted his eating plan, exercise routine and lifestyle to have a gout-free life. It is important to know what to look out for and how to improve your quality of life because gout can steal your joy and productivity when the pain strikes. For more information, please visit the Mayo Clinic website at www.mayoclinic.org. This article has been referenced to the article published by the Mayo Clinic Staff.