Rare in the past, gout is becoming increasingly common with 6% of males and 2% of females in the USA now suffering from this painful condition. Yes, gout now afflicts more than eight million American adults with research suggesting that it is still on the rise. Some people have only the occasional flare-up while others are plagued by chronic, recurring symptoms. Men have higher uric acid levels in their blood which makes them more likely to have gout but, when women go through the menopause, the production of estrogen is considerably reduced. It is the presence of estrogen that helps the kidneys to eliminate uric acid in the first place so, after middle age, the numbers of women with gout will go up.
But why is gout increasing?
- Being overweight is one of the reasons with 50% of all those with gout being overweight. At the same time, excess weight irritates sensitive nerve endings.
- Those with high blood pressure or diabetes are also at more risk.
Like other types of arthritis, gout is an inflammatory condition caused by too much inflammation in the body and with links to metabolic syndrome. As well as obesity, metabolic syndrome is linked to hypertension as well as disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism.
- While genetics, aging and even medications can add to the risk, lifestyle choices will play their part in this increase. Lifestyle changes should include losing weight, limiting alcohol and fructose as well as switching to a healthier diet (without processed, convenience foods and high sugar intake) and to medications that are either neutral or reduce uric acid.
The main symptoms of gout
- A build up of uric acid (because of diet, lifestyle, disease or medication) can cause small crystals to form in a joint.
Gout is a type of arthritis. You can understand this because the joints are affected by pain, stiffness, and inflammation with symptoms being mostly acute. These symptoms can flare up without warning and often at night. Putting even the slightest pressure on the affected areas, such as covering them with a sheet at night, can sometimes be unbearable.
- There can be severe pain in the joints of the ankles, hands, wrists, knees and feet with the big toe being especially affected with red, tender and swollen joints.
- Affected areas can feel warm or hot with the skin taking on a red or purple color or becoming very sensitive.
- The appearance of nodules in the elbows, hands or ears.
- Reduced flexibility and movement in the joints.
Gout attacks should never be dismissed
Gout's reputation as a 'joke' disease has meant that over the years it's not always taken as seriously as it should be. Gout flare-ups can occur without warning and often at night. Although such attacks may go away after a few days, they will return and sadly, they will be worse than ever making it most important to treat this condition as early as possible.