What Are the Causes of Gout?
Gout is a form of arthritis that causes pain and swelling in the joints, especially the big toes. It can affect anyone, although some people are more likely to experience it than others. The onset of this condition is often sudden and painful. Because of this, finding out that you have gout can be a frightening experience if you weren't already aware of the condition and how it works.
While gout is uncomfortable and inconvenient, it’s also manageable. By avoiding situations that cause gout or make it worse, you lessen the pain, and by treating the underlying source, you can keep gout from acting up.
Gout is well-known for causing intense pain and sensitivity in the areas it affects. The condition can be so intense that even sheets or blankets on the affected area can cause severe pain. Gout tends to act up quickly and most often at night, with pain often lasting for around four hours before it begins to feel less sharp.
Causes and Triggers
Gout is what happens when uric acid builds up in the body. While your body needs a certain amount of uric acid to be healthy, too much or too little can cause problems. In the case of gout, the excess uric acid crystalizes, causing extreme pain and sensitivity in the affected area.
Your body produces much of the uric acid in your system. However, foods that contain purines, a chemical found in many things that people eat, also create uric acid as they’re broken down by the body. If you have gout, you should avoid most foods that are high in purines, including red meat; organ meat; many kinds of seafood, including sardines, shellfish, tuna and anchovies; high-fructose corn syrup, which is especially common in artificially sweetened beverages; sugar, including many kinds of cereal, candy and baked goods; very sweet fruit juices, which naturally contain large amounts of sugar; and alcohol, which the body breaks down into sugar.
Gout also tends to act up when the body is under stress, such as after an injury, infection, surgery or chemotherapy. Dehydration and fasting can make the symptoms of gout worse, as can certain medications prescribed for swelling, high blood pressure or heart failure.
Gout Diagnosis, Treatments and Complications
Anyone can have gout, regardless of age or health. However, men are more likely to get it than women, and postmenopausal women are more likely to get it than women who haven’t gone through menopause yet. People with a diet high in purines are more likely to develop the condition, and regardless of gender, obesity is strongly connected to gout.
There are other medical conditions that can also increase the likelihood of developing gout. These include congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, insulin resistance, many kinds of kidney disease, metabolic syndrome and more.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When left untreated, gout can lead to decreased mobility, kidney stones and damage to the joints, so it’s best to seek treatment if you believe you have it. A doctor can confirm your condition through a blood test to see how much uric acid is in your body along with a joint fluid test, which involves removing fluid from the joint. CT scans, X-rays and ultrasounds may also factor into your diagnosis.
If you do have gout, your doctor will likely recommend medication for dealing with the pain as well as a diet with fewer purine-rich foods. You’ll need to avoid sugar and fat while eating more complex carbs, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. (While some vegetables, such as asparagus, are high in purines, studies suggest they don’t cause gout to act up.) You should also drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol, although coffee is fine — you may just need to pass on the cream and sugar. Vitamin C supplements may also be recommended.
Finally, exercise and losing weight (if you’re overweight) are a critical part of getting gout under control. Be careful not to lose too many pounds at once, however, as rapidly losing weight can actually increase purine levels.