All about Gout: What It Is & How to Prevent Flare-Ups
by Ashley Grano
What is gout?
For anyone who has ever experienced a bout of gout, it is a condition many strive to never have to endure again. Gout is a type of painful inflammation typically caused by the excessive buildup of uric acid crystals in a particular joint, according to Harvard Health. When this happens, inflammation is triggered, along with severe pain. Once inflammation sets in, this can be classified as a “flare”, or attack, which can persist for days or even months.
An attack generally consists of sudden and severe pain in a joint, commonly in the middle of the night or early morning, as stated by WebMD. Gout can also present as warmth, tenderness or discoloration of a joint. Occasionally, fever, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms may also occur. While the big toe is often afflicted, gout can present itself in other parts of the feet, ankles, knees and hands.
An estimated 60% of people who have a gout attack will have another within a year, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Further, up to 84% may have another attack within three years. For some, chronic gout develops, with increased frequency as well as severity of attacks over many years. Lasting pain and joint damage may follow, which can even lead to loss of mobility and possibly disability. Fortunately, this stage is often preventable with proper management and treatment.
What causes gout?
Gout is a complex disease, influenced by many different factors, according to Healthline. Gout is more prevalent in men than in women, and approximately 8.3 million people have the condition, WebMD reports. Fortunately, identifying major risk factors can help reduce the likelihood of an attack, as well as mitigate the recurrence of gout.
Risk factors for gout
The Arthritis Foundation cites many different risk factors for gout, including age (men 40 and older, women 50 and older), family history, gender (men more likely to develop gout), as well as many others which may be controllable. Lifestyle factors that may increase the risk for gout include eating a purine-rich diet (such as red meat, bacon and shellfish) and drinking alcohol (especially beer). Taking certain medications such as diuretics, low-dose aspirin and cyclosporine can also elevate risk. The possibility of gout also increases significantly in people with comorbid health conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, kidney disease, degenerative arthritis, thyroid disease, sleep apnea and diabetes. In addition, gout is more common following surgery, trauma and dehydration.
How to manage and prevent flare-ups
For mild and infrequent cases of gout, diet and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking may be sufficient to help prevent flare-ups, says MedicineNet. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can be used during attacks to bring down inflammation and swelling as well as reduce joint pain. Applying an ice pack for 15-20 minutes several times a day to the painful joint may help ease pain and inflammation.
Diet also plays a major role in helping to eliminate attacks of gout. Limiting the consumption of alcohol and avoiding purine-rich foods, like shellfish, lamb, beef, turkey, pork, and organ meat, have been found to be effective ways to manage and reduce the frequency of attacks. Instead, choose to eat a balanced, low-fat diet that’s also rich in organic vegetables and fruits. Some foods have been said to even help protect against gout, says Health.com. These include low-fat dairy foods, complex carbohydrates, coffee and citrus fruits. Stay hydrated by drinking 8-16 cups of fluid daily, which flushes out uric acid plus helps to prevent kidney stones, which are also associated with high uric acid levels.
For people who are overweight, losing weight can greatly to help lower the risk of gout attacks. Exercise is also especially important not only for weight loss, but because it helps lower uric acid in the blood. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important because it can lessen the risk of heart disease or stroke, says the Arthritis Foundation. Do be cautious to lose weight gradually, as drastic weight loss can trigger an attack.
While many of these diet and lifestyle remedies may be sufficient for mild gout, moderate to severe gout often requires working with a specialist doctor (such as a rheumatologist), who can prescribe an appropriate treatment plan and/or medications. However, many doctors may likely recommend that patients consider a holistic approach to health, which includes all of the aforementioned diet and lifestyle suggestions.