Triggered by high uric acid levels, gout affects joints, causing inflammatory and excruciating attacks that can last for days. Read on to learn about the condition, its causes and treatments
Imagine enjoying a delicious steak for dinner, only to wake up experiencing excruciating joint pain the next day. Racking your brain, you suspect that the culprit behind the discomfort could be the red meat you consumed the night before. This scenario is familiar to many who suffer from gout, an inflammatory arthritic condition. Referred to as “penyakit asam urat” in Indonesian, uric acid is a chemical compound in the body that triggers gout.
Dubbed “the disease of kings”, gout has a long history dating back to ancient Egypt. Still, it is a timeless disorder that many are still dealing with. To add to the concern, Harvard Men’s Health Watch’s Executive Editor Matthew Solan highlights a study published in JAMA that reveals a connection between gout and an increased risk for stroke and heart attack. Keep reading to learn more about gout and what you can do about it.
WHAT THE GOUT?
Gout, which is technically classified as a type of arthritis, primarily targets the joints and is associated with hyperuricemia, which refers to elevated uric acid levels in the bloodstream. Our body produces the acid to break down purine, an organic compound in some foods and drinks. Under normal circumstances, uric acid dissolves in the blood and leaves our body through urine. However, it becomes a problem when our body produces too much of the acid or has difficulty excreting it properly.
This accumulation of uric acid can lead to sharp, needle-like crystals in the joints forming and triggering painful gout attacks. Furthermore, WebMD states that hyperuricemia can create lumps around the joint called “tophi”, which are unsightly and limit joint function.
NO ORDINARY PAIN
If you have had gout, you know how painful it is. While it often strikes the big toe, it can appear in other areas, such as the wrist, elbow, ankle, knee and neck. The intensity of the pain can be so severe that it restricts movement, making it challenging, if not impossible, to perform daily activities. As attacks usually happen at night, they can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to mood swings and increased stress levels.
Gout can also lead to other health problems. Healthline states that sufferers risk developing kidney stones if crystals form around the kidneys. Studies suggest a correlation between gout and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. An episode of gout can raise your risk of the two conditions over two to four months, so managing and treating gout effectively is essential to reduce the chances of further health complications.
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS
It’s worth learning about the risk factors to determine whether or not you have a greater chance of experiencing the condition. In an article for Arthritis Health, Dr. Lance Silverman lists gender and age among the factors. Estimates demonstrate that men’s gout risk is four to ten times greater than women. The condition is also commonly experienced by individuals in their 30 – 50s, and the risk increases with age.
In addition, Senior Faculty Editor of Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Robert H. Shmerling highlights a study by Dr. Hyon K. Choi of the Massachusetts General Hospital that found that diet plays a vital role in determining the risk. Foods rich in purine, such as red meat, seafood and organ meat, are the main culprits of gout. Sugary and alcoholic drink fanciers should be wary as their favorite refreshers join the list of triggering beverages.
Certain health conditions might also increase the risk of gout. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of America, obesity can trigger hyperuricemia, later leading to gout. Individuals with hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and congestive heart failure are also more likely to experience the condition.
TREATMENTS AND PREVENTION
Despite the intense pain it brings, gout is easy to treat. According to the National Health Service England, you can treat gout flare-ups with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory options, including over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen sodium and ibuprofen. In addition, Mayoclinic lists medications that prevent complications, including Allopurinol and febuxostat. These limit uric acid production, while probenecid helps improve acid removal.
If you prefer natural remedies, there are several foods and drinks that you can try. Ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, perfect for relieving gout symptoms. Fruits like bananas, apples, cherries and celery are also beneficial for managing gout. Additionally, coffee, containing chlorogenic acid, can aid the removal of uric acid through urine.
Making lifestyle changes will also help in the long run. Refrain from eating many purine-packed foods and reduce consumption of sugary and alcoholic drinks. Losing weight, if necessary, can also help reduce the risk of hyperuricemia. It’s also helpful to talk with your doctor to discuss potential changes to your treatment plan if you’re taking gout-related medications.
Gout remains a painful condition affecting the daily life of many. However, treating gout can be straightforward with over-the-counter options. And with some lifestyle changes, this inflammatory enemy can be alleviated.
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