Gout used to be called the disease of kings, but now it affects more than 8 million Americans from all walks of life. It’s a form of arthritis that can be very uncomfortable and a little tricky to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to several other joint conditions.
Men are 3 times more likely to develop gout than women, and you could also be at high risk depending on your family history, drinking habits, and other factors. It’s caused by a buildup of uric acid that produces inflammation in the big toe or other joints.
Gout usually responds well to medication and lifestyle changes. While most attacks will run their course in a few days to a few weeks, proper treatment can also relieve many of the most troubling symptoms and reduce joint damage.
Learn how to live more comfortably with gout. Understanding your medical options and recommended lifestyle changes can help you to manage your condition.
- Understand the causes. Your body usually removes excess uric acid when you urinate, but sometimes it can accumulate in your blood and start to form needle-like crystals in your joints. This can be due to your diet or to your body making too much uric acid on its own.
- Spot the symptoms. Many gout patients notice tingling or other sensations before an attack during which the affected joint becomes red, swollen, and painful. In some cases, your joints can be so sensitive that even the pressure of a bed sheet or a breeze can be irritating.
- See a specialist. To develop your treatment plan, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist. That’s a doctor who specializes in diseases that affect joints, muscles, and bones.
- Get diagnosed. Your doctor may order several tests, but a joint fluid test is the most conclusive. By drawing fluid from your joint and looking at it under a microscope, they’ll be able to tell if the urate crystals associated with gout are present.
- Take medication. There are numerous drugs now available that can treat gout attacks, relieve pain and complications, and help prevent future attacks. Your doctor may also adjust your medication over time if your symptoms change.
- Apply ice. If you want to try managing your pain without medication, it may help to apply ice or cold compresses to sore joints. Keep a cloth or other barrier between the ice and your skin.
- Continue monitoring. Measuring uric acid levels is an important part of managing gout. Ask your doctor to set up a schedule of regular appointments, so you can stay on track.
- Limit alcohol. Beverages and foods high in a substance called purine can trigger gout attacks. That includes alcohol, especially beer.
- Avoid certain foods. Foods rich in purine include organ meats, game meats, and some seafood. Check labels for high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners too. While they’re not high in purine, they can trigger gout attacks.
- Eat healthy. Most of the foods that may help lower uric acid levels are suitable for any balanced diet. That includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dairy products, and eggs.
- Drink water. Staying well hydrated can also help your body to remove uric acid more efficiently. Drink water with meals and carry a bottle around with you.
- Lose weight. Obesity and related conditions like diabetes greatly increase your risk for gout. Shed pounds gradually with a lower calorie diet and regular exercise.
Great progress has been made in treating gout in recent years. Talk with your doctor about your options and control your symptoms by adjusting your diet, limiting alcohol, and losing any excess weight.