Gout is a type of arthritis where swelling and severe pain which can develop in any joint, especially at the base of the big toe. Crystals of sodium urate produced by the body can form inside joints and can cause sudden and severe pain, together with swelling and redness.
One in 40 people in the UK is affected, four times more common in men between the ages of 30-60 years of age, according to analysis of 15 years of results, in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases journal. It can also run in families.
Between 1997 and 2012, the prevalence of gout rose by 64%, increasing by around 4% every year.
Gout is one of a few types of arthritis where future damage to joints can be avoided by treatment.
Prof Alan Silman, the medical director of Arthritis Research UK, echoed the concern about obesity and identified foods which are high in purine such as red meat, shell fish and dairy, and red wine and beer aswell as yeast and yeast extracts (like Marmite)as potential contributors.
What causes it?
If urate does not pass out of the body, or if you produce too much, it can build up and form crystals. Gout is caused when these crystals build up and form around the body’s joints, causing inflammation and pain.
Urate builds up either because too much urate is being produced by the body or because not enough is being passed out in urine (which may indicate kidney disease). Some other diseases can also increase your likelihood of developing gout, including heart disease, psoriasis and the treatment of some blood disorders such as leukaemia.
Not everyone with high urate levels will develop gout. We do not know why some people develop it. However, if you are overweight you are more likely to develop it. A good diet and weight loss will reduce your chances of developing gout.
According to the latest research genes may play a part in increasing your risk of developing gout.
You are at risk of developing gout
- if you are very stressed or have had an illness
- if you injure or bruise a joint. If you are prone to gout, and you have more pain in a joint than you would expect after a minor bump, it could be an attack coming on, so get treatment straight away
- by taking diuretics (water tablets) or low-dose aspirin. Some people take these for high blood pressure or to prevent heart disease
How to help yourself during an attack of gout
An ice-pack (or pack of frozen peas), wrapped in a cloth, can be put on the sore joint for 30 minutes, several times a day, to bring relief and reduce inflammation.
A frame over your foot to keep bedclothes off it can relieve pain at night.
How to manage the effects on your life
If you are overweight, losing weight very gradually can help reduce the amount of urate in your blood. Do not go on a starvation diet. That can make gout worse.
Moderate exercise is very important for keeping your joints moving. A physiotherapist can give you exercises that are right for you.
Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink as dehydration can trigger gout. Alcohol, especially beer, can make it more likely for gout to flare up.
Drink lots of water – between 1.5 and 2.5 litres a day (six to eight glasses) to help prevent kidney stones. This can stop urate forming into crystals. Drinking five or more cups of coffee daily has been shown to increase the amount of uric acid that is excreted. For the best advice on how much water you should drink, talk with your doctor.
If you think you have gout (or any kind of arthritis), see your GP.
If you want more information about gout