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Gout FAQs

What Is Gout?

Gout is a joint condition that causes attacks of painful inflammation in one or more joints in the body. The pain is often severe and although it is a type of arthritis, it can be very different to the more common osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What Causes Gout?

Gout is fundamentally the result of a build up of uric acid (urate) in the blood. This chemical is made in the body and is usually harmless, with most of it being passed out through urine and some in faeces. When the level of uric acid in the blood becomes too high, tiny crystals of uric acid can form and collect in joints. These crystals irritate the tissues in the joint, causing inflammation, swelling and severe pain.

What Causes Uric Acid To Build Up?

By analysing the possible causes of a build-up of uric acid, you can decipher things you can do to reduce the risk of gout attacks and developing gout. In most people with gout, their kidneys do not pass out enough uric acid so the blood level can rise. These people are called 'under-excreters' of uric acid, although their kidneys should otherwise work normally.
Gout commonly affects the big toe.

Increased levels of uric acid could also be caused by other things, including:

  • A lack of vitamin C in your diet.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Some medicines including diuretics, chemotherapy and aspirin (when it is being used as a full-on painkiller).
  • Certain foods such as sardines, herring, heart, yeast extract etc.
  • Drinking sugar sweetened soft drinks high in fructose. Drinking two sugar sweetened soft drinks a day can increase the risk of gout by 85%.
Finally, some other conditions may present an increased risk of gout, such as obesity, bone marrow disorder, kidney damage, diabetes, enzyme defects, lipid disorders, vascular disease, HBP as well as illnesses where the cells of the body have a rapid turnover, such as blood disorders and severe psoriasis.

Who Does Gout Affect?

Gout is more common among men than women, affecting around 1 in 200 adults. Sufferers tend to be middle-aged when they first have an attack, but it can affect younger people as well, and there is even evidence of it running in families, with approximately 1 in 5 cases having a family history of gout.

What Are The Symptoms Of Gout?

Gout usually occurs in attacks, which can develop quickly over a few hours. The most commonly affeced joint is the base of the big toe which can make walking extremely painful, although any joint can be affected. Your joints will become swollen and nearby skin can look red and inflamed. Gout attacks can last several days if they are not treated but in any case should ease up within 7 to 10 days. Attacks can be infrequent and irregular or there may be certain triggers to cause an attack.

Other effects of gout, such as joint damage, are possible if you suffer from regular attacks, but uncommon. Sometimes, the uric acid crystals can form kidney stones, cause kidney damage and form bumps under the skin (called tophi), which are usually painless and harmless but can sometimes become infected.

How Can Gout Be treated?

Treatment measures for Gout include:
  • Keeping the limb raised, which will help to reduce swelling
  • Keeping an ice pack held against the inflamed joint can help to ease the pain
  • Use anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen

How Can I Prevent Recurring Attacks?

  • Ensure you are getting adequate vitamin C
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Know your blood pressure; HBP is more common in people with Gout
  • If you are overweight, try to lose some weight because this will help to lower the uric acid level in your blood
  • Avoid drinking excessive alcohol
  • Avoid excessive protein intake and over-consumption of foods rich in purines such as seafood, kidneys, liver and foods high in yeast extract i.e. Marmite
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