Gout strikes people of all social and financial backgrounds. Today, more than 8.3 million people in the U.S suffer from gout. And that number is increasing due to the increase in obesity and a greater frequency of high blood pressure.

What Is Gout?

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood. This acid forms needle-like crystals in a joint and cause sudden, severe pain, tenderness, redness, warmth and swelling. If it is not controlled, gout can cause severe damage to joints, tendons, and other tissues.

Gout used to be treated with a strict diet. Today, medicines can control it, though eating smart will help you feel better.

Gouty Big Toe

Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia). Hyperuricemia usually does no harm. But sometimes when uric acid levels in the blood are too high, uric acid forms crystals that build up in the joints. The crystals can cause a gout attack. A gout attack typically causes pain, swelling, redness, and warmth (inflammation) in a single joint, most often the big toe.

The Symptoms of Gout

For most people, gout follows an injury or illness and starts with excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe. Gout pain may also appear in the ankle or knee. Subsequent attacks may occur off and on in other joints, primarily those of the foot and knee, before becoming continuous.

Gout usually starts with one joint, but if left untreated it can affect other joints. The severe joint pain may lessen in a week to 10 days, but the pain may become more constant. Painless but disfiguring lumps of crystals may also form from uric acid under the skin around the joints.

Gout is associated with kidney stones and other serious health risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

How Gout Is Diagnosed

To diagnose gout, the doctor will look at the patient’s medical history, examine the affected joint, and do a blood test. He or she will be interested in the severity of the pain, the length of the attack, and the joints affected. They may ask about any medications you are taking and take an X-ray, ultrasound, CT or MRI to rule out other potential causes of the pain.

The blood test will measure the level of uric acid in your blood. A high level of uric acid in your blood doesn’t necessarily mean you have gout, just as a normal level doesn’t mean you don’t have it. The surest way to diagnose gout is to remove fluid from the affected joint and examine it under a microscope for uric acid crystals.

What Causes Gout?

Although gout pain appears suddenly, it is the end of a process that takes place over time. As noted before, gout is the result of excess uric acid in the body. This is a condition called hyperuricemia.

Uric acid is a substance that normally forms when the body breaks down purines, which are found in human cells and in many foods. Uric acid is transported by the blood to the kidneys and eliminated in the urine.

However, some people either overproduce uric acid or they produce a normal amount, but their kidneys can’t process it efficiently and an excess of uric acid builds up. Some, but not all, of those people may develop gout.

Who Is Affected by Gout?

Gout occurs in about 4 percent of American adults – about 6 million men and 2 million women. It can be triggered by a diet high in certain high-purine foods (red meats or shellfish), excessive alcohol use (especially beer), and medications for high blood pressure, leg swelling or heart failure.

Other factors that can increase your risk include:

  • A family member who has had gout.

  • Other health conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

  • Being over the age 60.

  • Being male.

  • Obesity.

  • Having undergone gastric bypass surgery.

Treatment of Gout

Your treatment plan will depend on the stage and severity of your gout. Medications to treat gout work in one of two ways: They relieve pain and bring down inflammation, or they prevent future gout attacks by lowering uric acid levels.

Treatment for an acute attack may include:

  • Resting the affected joint.

  • Using ice to reduce swelling.

  • Taking over-the-counter NSAIDs or prescription medications at the first sign of an attack.

  • A corticosteroid injection into the affected joint.

Treatment to prevent future attacks may include:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as weight management, exercise and dietary adjustments. (See more below.)

  • Taking medication to reduce uric acid levels in your blood, such as uricosuric agents, xanthine oxidase inhibitors and, in severe cases, pegloticase.

  • Treatment or removal of nodules under your skin that form from uric acid crystals, called tophi.

  • Adjustments to your current medication regimen, as some medications can increase uric acid concentration.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is a key part of an effective gout treatment plan. A healthy diet, regular physical activity and losing weight can lower your risk of repeated gout attacks.

Diet. A healthy diet should include all the food groups, especially vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins such as nuts and legumes, and low-fat dairy. Refined carbohydrates and processed foods should be kept to a minimum.

Physical Activity and Weight Management. Reaching and maintaining a proper weight is an important part of managing gout. Losing weight helps reduce the uric acid in the blood and it can lessen the risk of heart disease or stroke, both common in people who have gout. Being physically active is an important part of managing weight.

See Your Doctor

If you are experiencing symptoms of gout, it is important that you talk to a foot doctor in south Philadelphia. If left untreated, too much uric acid in your blood can cause more frequent gout attacks and joint damage. In rare cases, it can damage your kidneys too. Your physician will complete a thorough evaluation of your symptoms and develop a personalized treatment plan that provides fast pain relief and prevents future attacks.

Gout Diet Ideas

To help control your gout:

  • Limit foods that are high in purines, especially meat, seafood, and beer.

  • Eat a healthy diet that provides the nutrients you need and helps you control your weight.

  • Eat low-fat dairy products.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids. This can help your body get rid of uric acid.

There are several things you can do as part of an eating plan for gout.

1. Avoid or limit foods that are high in purines, especially during a gout attack. These foods include:

  • Organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, and brains.

  • Meats, including bacon, beef, pork, and lamb.

  • Game meats.

  • Any other meats or poultry in large amounts.

  • Anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, and scallops.

  • Gravy.

  • Beer.

2. Eat foods that may lower your risk of gout. These include:

  • Low-fat or fat-free milk.

  • Low-fat yogurt.

3. Choose healthy foods. These foods include:

  • A wide range of fruits and vegetables.

  • Eggs, nuts, and seeds for protein.

  • Small amounts of meat. Limit your serving size to 2 to 3 ounces a day.

4. Drink plenty of water and other fluids. This can help your body get rid of uric acid.

5. Avoid eating habits that can raise your uric acid levels. For example:

  • Avoid crash diets and low-carbohydrate diets.

  • Do not eat too much food.

  • Avoid alcohol, especially beer and hard liquor such as whiskey and gin.