What is gout? What you need to know about this painful disease

WATCH: Reducing the risk for gout 

If you have gout, you’ll know it.

Shannon Youn, a chiropodist at Feet First Clinic in Toronto, tells Global News gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that is caused by hyperuricemia — high levels of uric acid in the blood.

“Chronically-elevated levels of uric acid can lead to the formation of crystals which deposit into a joint, resulting in the joint becoming red, hot, swollen, and painful,” she said.

“Hyperuricemia can develop if your body either produces too much uric acid or does not excrete enough through the kidneys.”

Assia Abibsi, a doctor of podiatric medicine and chiropodist at the Ottawa Foot Clinic, adds uric acid is a compound that appears in our bodies after eating certain foods. These can include red meat, seafood and the consumption of alcohol.

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“Like any chemistry concept, if there is too much of something in a given quantity of liquid, it becomes too concentrated,” Abibsi said.

Gout has been seen as a “man’s disease” or one that only affects people who drink too much alcohol or consume too much meat. But it is also on the rise, experts add.

Dr. Debra Dye-Torrington, who works in the rheumatology department at Scarborough Health Network in Scarborough, Ont., added this reflects changes in demographic factors.

“These changes affect both modifiable and non-modifiable factors,” she said.

“Examples of modifiable rise factors are obesity, alcohol consumption and diet. Examples of non-modifiable factors are increasing longevity and age-associated diseases.”

What are the common signs

Abibsi says gout “hurts like hell,” and your joints, often in the foot or big toe, will become swollen in a matter of days.

“The immune system of the joint doesn’t like this uric acid attacks its own joint to get rid of this unwanted guest,” she said.

Dye-Torrington says another sign of gout can be a low-grade fever.

“In more severe cases, gout could affect more than one joint.”

Youn says symptoms can last for about a week and besides the toe, gout can also happen in the knee, ankle, mid-foot, wrist and elbow.

Risk factors for gout

The Mayo Clinic notes there are several factors that increase uric acid in your body, including everything from diet to obesity to family history to even age and sex. 

“Gout occurs more often in men, primarily because women tend to have lower uric acid levels,” the site noted.

“After menopause, however, women’s uric acid levels approach those of men. Men are also more likely to develop gout earlier — usually between the ages of 30 and 50 — whereas women generally develop signs and symptoms after menopause.”

Apart from diets rich in meat, fish and alcohol, Youn said fructose-sweetened beverages could also be a risk factor.

Treatment options for gout

Dye-Torrington says non-pharmacological treatment options for acute gout includes icing the joint, while pharmacological treatments include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, colchicine, and intra-articular corticosteroids.

“Long-term treatment requires lowering the uric acid level with pills. Allopurinol is the pill most commonly used,” she said.

Youn says seeing a foot specialist is also often needed.

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“A chiropodist may prescribe a custom foot orthotic with a rigid extension to reduce mobility in the affected joint or a shoe with a rocker bottom sole. An orthopedic surgeon may also need to aspirate or flush the joint to help relieve pain.”

Abibsi says prevention is the best treatment — stay hydrated and healthy.

“Avoid excessive alcohol consumption,” Dye-Torrington continued. “Wine is safer than beers… avoid sugary drinks.”

Day-to-day management of gout involves staying educated on the topic, Youn said. This can help reduce the risk of recurring attacks.

It is important to monitor your symptoms as well as keep track of your diet, Abibsi continues. A nutritionist can also be helpful in creating meal plans.

arti.patel@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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