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Gout is a type of arthritis, an inflammatory condition which can cause attacks of swelling, which are generally sudden and very painful.  Gout affects an estimated two out of every hundred people in the U.K., with men suffering more than women.  As our lifestyle becomes more indulgent – especially at Christmas – gout attacks become more common, and cases of gout are on the rise.  Dr Taher Mahmud of the London Osteoporosis Clinic advises reducing your risk of developing gout and how lifestyle measures can help minimise the risk of an attack.

What is gout?

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that occurs in those with high uric acid levels in the blood.  Uric acid forms crystals in joints, more frequently in the feet and toes.  As a result, swelling and pain develop in the joint, known as a about, or attack, of gout.  A gout attack usually develops quickly, over only a few hours, and lasts several days.  After some time, the inflammation and pain go down, and the joint returns to normal.

What are the symptoms of gout?

Common symptoms of gout, often felt in the toes, ankles, knees, fingers, and elbows, include:

  • Heat and tenderness were felt in the joint, with the joint often becoming unbearable to touch
  • Mobility is affected by intense, severe pain
  • Red, shiny skin on or around the skin of the joint affected
  • Swelling in the affected area or around it
  • Itchy skin, or skin which peels and flakes as the swelling reduces

An attack of gout can occur at any time, but bouts occur more frequently at night and develop quickly.  After your first attack, you will likely experience another, but this can happen after months or years have passed.  Gout must be treated as if left alone; it can develop, and attacks will become more frequent.

What is the treatment for gout?

Treatment for gout focuses on relieving symptoms when they occur and trying to prevent further attacks from happening.  Symptoms during an attack can be reduced through anti-inflammatory drugs and certain types of medication.  To prevent gout attacks and reduce the likelihood of the condition developing.  However, the best approach is a lifestyle change to help reduce uric acid levels and prevent crystal deposits from forming.

Things you can do to help prevent gout

  • Rest well and get enough sleep
  • Even for those who do not suffer from gout, aiming for 8 hours of sleep every night should be ideal.  Getting the right amount of sleep can help your immune system, which helps prevent infection and inflammation.  Getting enough sleep can help manage stress levels and improve your memory.
  • Exercise frequently
  • Staying active should be a healthy habit everyone strives towards, but getting enough exercise can also help prevent gout attacks.  Being overweight or obese can also be a risk factor for gout, so being at a healthy weight can help prevent the onset.
  • Try to reduce stress levels.
  • Stress can trigger a gout attack and make symptoms worse when they do occur.  Seek out ways to help reduce stress or manage what you have on your plate – even working in small ways, such as writing lists of what you must do on a specific day or setting 30 minutes aside in your day devoted to just you, can help minimise stress.

What to avoid to help prevent gout attacks

  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Alcohol (in all forms) is thought to increase uric acid production, so moderation with alcohol is critical in preventing gout attacks.  It can be difficult at times like Christmas to avoid drinking, but having a large glass of water after each drink may help you moderate the amount and track precisely what you are drinking so you are aware of your consumption.
  • Try to stick to a low-purine diet.
  • Purine compounds, found in many different foods (and alcohol), increase the build-up of uric acid crystals in the body.
  • Eat more:
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Dairy products (low-fat)
  • Cherries – these have been linked to decreased levels of uric acid
  • Vitamin C – an increased level of vitamin C may help to reduce the risk of a gout attack
  • You should also drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, as fluid helps to flush uric acid out and hinder the development of crystals

Eat less:

  • Particular types of seafood and shellfish, including shrimp, scallops, and mussels
  • Certain types of fish, like haddock, codfish, anchovies, trout, and sardines
  • Red meat (meat in general contains levels of purine, but white meat is generally considered to be a better choice)
  • Organ meats, like liver and kidneys

If you suffer from gout, remember not to suffer in silence and ensure you get the proper treatment.  Gout can lead to further problems if left untreated, and attacks can become more frequent.  Talk to your healthcare provider for advice and support.

If you have any questions about arthritis, gout, or osteoporosis, contact the LOC office for advice or a clinic appointment.