Published January 09, 2012
Gout is a type of arthritis that can involve pain and inflammation of one or more joints. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, there are 6 million adults over the age 20 who have reported gout.
The disease occurs when your body makes too much uric acid or has trouble getting rid of it. Uric acid is the result of the body breaking down purines, which are found in certain foods and drinks. It is usually eliminated from the body after it dissolves in the blood stream and passes through the kidneys. If this does not happen, uric acid builds up in the blood, and uric acid crystals can be deposited in joints or soft tissue, leading to inflammatory arthritis. Gout is more common in adult men. Drinking in excess, a rich diet and high blood pressure all increase your chances of getting the disease. Certain medicines, like diuretics, aspirin and cyclosporine may also trigger an attack. It is possible to have high levels of uric acid in your blood but not develop gout.
Found most often in the large joint of your big toe, gout can also affect other joints, including those at the knees, ankles or wrists. Intense joint pain can occur suddenly along with swelling, which makes the area red, purple or tender. Gout is typically episodic but can become chronic. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, chronic gout usually develops over years and can mean permanent joint damage.
Exposure to lead, a family history of gout and being overweight increase your risk of gout. Eating rich foods that contain a lot of purines can agitate gout. Purine-rich foods include anchovies, liver, dried beans, gravies and asparagus. Drinking alcohol, especially beer, can also increase the amount of uric acid in your body. Stress is another possible gout trigger.
Doctors may use blood and urine tests to determine your body’s uric acid level. They may also analyze your synovial fluid, conduct a synovial biopsy or X-ray your joints to diagnose gout. Treatment includes measures to reduce the pain associated with current attacks, prevent further attacks and protect you from kidney stones and tophi, which are lumps that develop below the skin. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and Aleve are commonly the first line of attack. Avoid aspirin because it increases uric acid levels. Colchicine can prevent future gout attacks, so your doctor may prescribe a small dose of it for daily use. Corticosteroids, which can be taken orally or injected, reduce swelling and are used if you cannot take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or colchicine.
You can help prevent gout flare-ups by avoiding alcohol and fatty foods like salad dressing, fried food and ice cream. Do not gorge yourself on rich foods. Eat a diet that is low in high-purine foods. If you choose to lose weight, make sure to do it slowly to prevent the development of uric acid kidney stones. Gout has a good prognosis, and people with the disease are usually able to live normal and productive lives if they receive the proper treatment.