Gout - Disease Making a Comeback


Jan 20, 2015 by Tom

What do Queen Anne (1665-1714), US politician Dick Cheney, Neville Chamberlain, Ford Madox Brown and Christopher Columbus have in common? The answer: they all had, or have, gout.

Gout, which used to be known as 'the disease of kings', has become increasingly common. In fact, the rate of gout worldwide doubled between 1990 and 2010, and now around one in 50 people in the Western World will suffer from gout at some point.

Gout is a form of arthritis in which crystals of sodium urate form inside and around the joints, frequently - but by no means always - joints in the foot, causing sudden and severe pain, swelling and redness. The symptoms tend to peak after 6-24 hours and usually last between three and 10 days. Most people who have had one attack of gout will have at least one more.

Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Everybody produces uric acid on a daily basis, and the kidneys usually excrete it, but when this does not happen efficiently the uric acid forms sharp, needle-shaped crystals that inflame joint tissue. In some cases, these pack together to form lumps of crystal, which can lead to irreversible joint damage, although this is uncommon.



The risk of suffering gout is increased by:

  • Age - gout is more common in older people.
  • Being male.
  • Obesity.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • A family history of gout.
  • Long-term kidney problems that compromise the elimination of uric acid.
  • Certain diets, particular those high in red meat, seafood and offal, alcohol and/or sugary drinks.
  • Some medications, such as certain diuretics.



Gout is generally treated with anti-inflammatory painkillers and steroids. Some new medications have recently been approved in various countries around the world, and a number more are currently being researched.

Regardless of treatment, there are some things that sufferers can do to reduce their suffering during a gout attack. These include:


  • Raising the affected limb to reduce swelling.
  • Wrapping an ice pack or pack of frozen peas in a towel and holding them to the joint for up to 20 minutes. This can be repeated as needed, but it is important to let the joint warm up again between applications.
  • Making sure that hydration is adequate - eight glasses (1.5 litres) of fluid a day is recommended.


Lifestyle factors

Changes to some lifestyle factors, particularly dietary factors, can help to prevent gout. Studies suggest that coffee consumption may reduce the risk of gout, as may the treatment of any sleep apnoea.

In terms of diet, it is a good idea to reduce the intake of foods that are known to contribute to the disease, which includes red meat, seafood, alcohol, and to increase the intake of vitamin C (there are some, albeit contested, claims that vitamin C can help to prevent gout). It is also sensible to maintain a healthy weight.