Gout is something we usually associate with old, overweight men like the notorious Henry VIII. Unfortunately, it is something that is on the rise and currently around 600,000 Brits suffer from gout. Numbers are increasing at around 4 per cent every year, and more and more young men and women are being diagnosed.
Gout mainly affects the joint, so it’s possible that your joint pain could be related. If you’re not sure what gout is or what causes it, read on for some helpful information.
Gout: what is it?
Gout is a form of arthritis, the leading cause of disability in the UK today. The term arthritis means ‘inflammation of the joints’ and there are more than 100 conditions it applies to, including the three most common: osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout.
Gout causes sudden and severe pain in a joint – typically the big toe – along with swelling and redness. An attack is triggered when sodium urate crystals, produced by the body from uric acid (a waste product), build up inside the joints. If left untreated, gout can cause kidney conditions, permanent joint problems or heart disease.
Gout: what causes it?
Gout is mainly caused by lifestyle. Although your genes and other health conditions play a part – high blood pressure and diabetes can raise your risk – gout is more common in those who are overweight or who have a protein-rich diet.
Uric acid forms when the body breaks down chemicals in cells known as purines, so a purine-rich diet can raise your risk of gout. Foods rich in purines include red meat (beef, lamb, pork, liver, and kidneys), alcohol (particularly beer and spirits), and sweet fizzy drinks. Following high-protein diets could also increase your risk of developing gout.
In healthy people, uric acid is flushed out of the kidneys when we go to the loo but levels are too high to be excreted in those with gout. This excess uric acid is then deposited inside your joints, and the body mounts a painful inflammatory response. Gout tends to start in your big toe, but can spread into other joints, and an attack can last 7-10 days.
Gout: how do you treat it?
Your GP can prescribe anti-inflammatory tablets or a medication called colchicine if you’re unable to take anti-inflammatories. Take them at the first sign of an attack to ward off painful symptoms.
You can try taking a glucosamine supplement as glucosamine is a major part of the protein that forms cartilage in joints. Natural anti-inflammatory remedies include ginger, extract of green-lipped muscle, bromelain, curcumin, and Devil’s Claw. Garlic increases blood flow to affected joints, which helps calm down joint inflammation.
You may also be prescribed medication that helps prevent uric acid building up in your joints. Talk to your GP if you’re already taking medication for diabetes and high blood pressure, including diuretics.
There are a number of alternative remedies for gout, such as avoiding certain foods, cutting your alcohol consumption and trying to maintain a healthy weight.
If you think you’re suffering from gout, it’s important to have a thorough assessment by your GP or a rheumatologist as it’s also an independent risk factor for heart disease.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.