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Gout: How to Recognize, Treat and Cope

Arthritis Knee Pain iStock

Imagine your big toe, red and throbbing with pain so excruciating, that even the slightest touch incapacitates you. This is what happens to people who suffer from gout.

Gout, which affects about six million people in the U.S., is one of hundreds of forms of arthritis, but it’s special because of its sporadic attacks on its victims, that can last over a week, and occur randomly over time.

Slideshow: Home Remedies to Treat Gout 

This form of arthritis results from an imbalance of uric acid, which is a normal production of the human metabolism, said Dr. John S. Sundy, associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

“People have an excess of uric acid in the body that crystallizes in and around the joints,” he said. “These crystals have the ability to lead to acute arthritis.”

Who’s Affected By Gout

Sorry guys, but it turns out you are more at risk for coming down with gout, and this risk increases with age, because it takes time to accumulate the burden of uric acid buildup.

“Some people make too much uric acid, some people produce too little,” Sundy said. “You can think of this as a balance sheet.”

And while men are more likely to get gout – a woman’s risk considerably rises after going through menopause.

There are a number of other factors associated with this painful condition, such as hypertension, impaired kidney function, obesity, cardiovascular problems and a family history of gout.

Symptoms

The most common way gout is discovered is when a patient comes to a doctor with an attack – almost always in the big toe.

“Just the weight of a sheet on there is painful,” Sundy said.

Other symptoms include inflammation and redness at the site of the affected joint.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor. If left untreated, gout can lead to worsening pain and joint damage.

Treatment

To treat gout, doctors often use anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or steroids.

“Our goal is to use medications to lower the blood levels of uric acid,” Sundy said.

Once a patient has seen a physician, tips for at-home treatment vary based on which joint the gout is affecting, but the most common areas are the ankle and knee region.

For these areas, patients are advised to avoid weight-bearing activities, which can mean lying or sitting all day.

Natural Remedies

If you want to go the natural route, Patricia Bannan, nutritionist and author of ‘Eat Right When Time Is Tight,’ has some tips that start with what you put in your mouth.

Bannan said there are several foods to avoid, which include organ meats – like liver, brain and kidney – and certain seafood – such as anchovies, herring and mackerel. Patients are also strongly advised to avoid alcohol and sugary drinks. She said these foods may increase uric acid levels, making gout more painful.

On the flip side, foods including milk, yogurt, 500 milligrams a day of vitamin C, and drinking tea with thyme can help decrease uric acid levels in your body.

And we can’t forget about cherries. This tiny fruit packs quite a punch by reducing toxins from the body and cleaning the kidneys, according to both Bannan and Sundy. Try cherry compote, cherry juice, cherry jam, cherry tea or any other cherry variation.

But remember, always talk to your doctor before trying any at-home remedies.

“For the most part, many of the things that people will read about or try are not harmful and in some cases may be helpful,” Sundy said. “We want to put a handful of tools into people’s hands for managing manifestation of the disease and give them some guidelines.”