Why Is Gout On The Increase?
Gout is often thought of as the preserve of old men who are a little too fond of drinking red wine and indulging in rich foods. Great Britain’s, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) was reported to have suffered from severe Gout. His lifestyle did nothing to diminish the idea that sufferers were ailing due to their own over-indulgences.
However, let’s get down to facts about Gout. Do you know what really causes Gout?
Gout is actually a form of Arthritis. It’s symptoms include sudden and severe joint pain, combined with swelling and redness around the affected area. Whilst almost any joint can be affected it is common to find symptoms appear within the joint of the big toe. An attack of gout can come on without warning and can last for 3-10 days.
What causes Gout?
A build up of uric acid in the blood allows crystals of sodium urate to form in and around a joint. Uric acid is usually a waste product that is made daily in the body and usually excreted via the kidneys. The crystals that form are hard and needle shaped and slowly build up causing gout attacks to become worse each time.
An increasingly high concentration of sodium urate crystals can not only cause joints to be inflamed but can also cause damage to the soft lining of the joint and it’s this that causes the pain and inflammation associated with Gout.
In extreme cases, Gout can cause lumps to form on and around the affected joint. As these lumps continue to expand they cause progressive damage to joint cartilage and bone, which causes more pain and restriction of joint movement.
Statistically, men appear to be more prone to Gout attacks than women. The following are thought to be contributing factors:
The Damaging Effect of High Purine Levels:
Purines can be found within the body and within a wide variety of foods and drinks. There are many naturally occurring purines and some are present within the building blocks of life (DNA). When cells die the purines within them are broken down by the body and form uric acid. This is a perfectly normal process and uric acid (when found in our blood) helps to protect the body’s blood vessel linings when acting as an antioxidant.
Some foods and drinks contain concentrated amounts of purines. These tend to be high protein foods such as the following:
- Organ meats: i.e. liver, kidneys, sweetbreads & brains
- Meats: bacon, beef, pork, lamb
- Game meats
Our kidneys help to keep our uric levels, within our blood, balanced. When we have damaged kidneys or exceptionally high levels of uric acid, the body can’t deal with the build up of uric acid crystals (monosodium urate crystals). Instead of excreting the uric acid, the body starts to deposit the crystals in our tendons, joints, kidneys and other organs resulting in ‘gouty arthritis’.
How to Prevent & Cope with Gout Attacks:
Once you’ve experienced a Gout attack it is likely that you’ll experience another. However, there are strategies that can be implemented to lessen further attacks. Simple but effective lifestyle changes to diet and exercise can make a difference to the number, and severity, of gout attacks. Certain types of medication, available from your Doctor, can help to deal with the causes of uric acid build-up.
Men generally seem to be affected more by Gout than women. Oestrogen levels in women help to lessen the likelihood of developing Gout but only until the menopause.
- Rest the affected joint.
- Take Painkillers prescribed by your Doctor.
- Ensure you take uric acid lowering tablets routinely, not just when a gout attack happens.
- Apply ice packs to the affected joint which can help reduce the inflammation caused by gout
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Drink plenty of water
Medical professionals are concerned about the increasing number of patients affected with Gout. They believe that the increasingly worrying obesity epidemic & rising numbers of patients with type 2 diabetes are largely to blame for the increase in Gout attacks. The numbers of patients suffering with Gout have doubled in the last 10 years (source: NHS).
Associate Professor Julia Horsfield, from the University of Otago, has won NZ$150,000 from the Health Research Council Explorer Grant to identify new ways to combat Gout. Professor Horsfield and her colleagues, Professor Tony Merriman and Dr Justin O’Sullivan, will all be studying the genetic factors regarding the production of uric acid. They intend to use the Zebrafish in their experiments as it has a high degree of similarity to human DNA code.
Is health education making a difference enough of a difference to diet and lifestyle choices? Did you understand what Gout is and what causes it’s symptoms before you read our blog?