The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 8.3 million Americans have gout. That means it's likely you or someone you know is living with the disease. Even though it’s common, I find that many patients have a core misunderstanding of what actually causes gout, how it might be prevented, and what risk factors they need to watch for. Because gout is so commonplace, it’s important to know these things sooner rather than later.
A form of arthritis
Gout is another painful form of arthritis that often strikes patients in the middle of the night. They wake up with intense swelling, pain, or stiffness in their joints. This is most often experienced first with terrible pain in the big toe, but pain can also occur in the ankle or knee. This disorder is caused by having too much uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid is a normal waste product made in all of our bodies. Kidneys typically break this down, but if there's too much for the kidneys to break down or the kidneys aren't functioning properly it can cause painful crystals to build up and collect in your joints. This is what causes gout.
Diet always gets the blame
While a rich, high-fat diet certainly doesn't help, it is not the only underlying factor at play with somebody who has gout. Certain lifestyle factors, medical history, and even medications can trigger a gout attack. That being said, certain types of seafood, such as mackerel, herring, scallops, anchovies, and sardines, should be limited, as should red meat and organ meat. But those aren't the only things you need to watch out for if you're trying to avoid gout.
Other contributing factors
First, gout is way more likely to strike men than women. While women of any age can also suffer from the disease, it's more common for them after menopause.
Another contributing factor is genetics. If you have a family history of gout, the chances of you developing the disease is far more likely than for somebody who does not have a family history.
Medications can also contribute to the disease. Prescriptions used to treat high blood pressure or heart disease, specifically diuretics, are perhaps the biggest risk factors for gout. But niacin, drugs that contain salicylates, and certain immune-suppressing drugs can also put you at higher risk. If you know you have a family history of the disease, talk to your doctor before he or she prescribes any of these medications to you.
Other medical conditions are also linked to gout. Obesity, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, Type-2 diabetes, kidney disease, psoriasis, and cancers are also major gout triggers. This doesn't mean you're off the hook as far as diet. You still have to maintain a healthy diet that contains good proteins, a good balance of carbs, and low levels of fat. I think it's important for patients to see the big picture when it comes to a disease that is so common.
Have you had gout? What questions do you have? Leave a question or comment below.
Dr. Johnston is a board-certified Rheumatology specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. His areas of clinical interest include arthritis, quality of life issues and vasculitis. He cares for his patients at Clear Lake Clinic, Downtown at The Shops, Berthelsen Main Campus and Pearland Clinic.