Gout attacks, one of many forms of arthritis, used to be considered a “royal” disease, associated with kings like Henry VIII, who could afford rich diets full of meat, alcohol, and desserts. Nowadays, those three things are part of a typical American diet. So, while we may consider ourselves rich with food options, we also get to share the risk of gout with the rulers of old. What was once considered an 18th-century affliction is now on the rise as a diagnosis for the everyday American.
What is Gout?
Gout is a painful form of arthritis characterized by sharp uric acid crystals forming in joints and causing episodes of swelling and pain called “gout attacks.” The big toe joint is most often affected, and doctors think that the crystals probably collect there because it is cooler than the rest of the body, and big toes, in particular, endure a lot of wear and tear. But gout can be found in other joints, including the knee, ankle, foot, hand, wrist, and elbow.
The body makes uric acid while breaking down chemicals called purines found in certain foods and drinks. This acid is typically processed through the kidneys and eliminated in the urine. However, if uric acid levels are too high for the body to process and excrete, crystals can form and accumulate in the joints. The sharp, needle-like crystals cause gout.
Who is Affected?
Gout can affect anyone, but men typically develop this arthritis at a younger age. Women don’t typically begin to experience symptoms until after menopause. Men are three times more likely than women to develop gout because they have higher uric acid levels most of their lives.
Your risk of developing gout increases with these risk factors:
- Excess weight.
- Congestive heart failure.
- Family history of gout.
- High blood pressure.
- Kidney disease.
- A diet high in animal proteins and alcohol.
- Diuretics (water pills).
Gout is episodic, meaning it occurs as an “attack” that can happen suddenly and last a week or two. There may be no obvious symptoms between attacks, which can be frequent or spaced out by years. However, without treatment, attacks may become more frequent and severe.
- Intense pain.
- Redness, stiffness, swelling.
- Tenderness, even to light touch such as a bedsheet.
- Warmth or the feeling like the joint is “on fire.”
Severe, chronic gout can lead to deformity in the joints and a higher risk of kidney stones due to crystal deposits in the kidneys.
Diet and exercise are your best bets for preventing the development of gout and reducing the number and severity of attacks.
- Drink your water! Drinking plenty of water helps your kidneys function better and enables you to avoid dehydration.
- Watch what you eat. Do your best to limit foods high in purines which can trigger uric acid buildup. These include alcohol, proteins from animal sources, especially red meat, gravy, and drinks high in sugar.
- Exercise. Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight increases the amount of uric acid in the body and puts more stress on joints where uric acid crystals can build up.
There are a few medications available that your provider may recommend. These include medications to help prevent pain and inflammation and medications that help lower uric acid levels in the body to reduce or prevent future gout attacks.
Gout attacks can be painful and debilitating. Before one occurs, consider asking for help with managing symptoms so that you aren’t figuring it out on your own.
Plan to do these things during an attack:
- Avoid alcohol and sweet drinks.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Elevate the joint(s).
- Put ice on the joint(s).
- Limit stress on the joint(s).
- Stay current on doctor-recommended medications.
There are many ways in which some extra support can help you not only manage a gout attack but make lifestyle changes to prevent future attacks. Patiently making long-term changes can be challenging, but you can succeed and even thrive with a plan and people in place for support and accountability.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
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- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
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- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
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