Gout: What it is, Symptoms and Causes | Part 1

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Welcome to part one of this blog series on Gout. Today’s blog post covers:

  • What is Gout
  • The Symptoms of Gout
  • The Causes of Gout

What is Gout?

Although it used to be known as an old man’s disease, gout is actually something that both men and women can get, although it is generally more common among men.

Gout is a type of arthritis that causes intense pain, inflammation, swelling and tenderness in the joints.
It generally comes in short attacks, coming on quickly over a few hours and lasting anywhere between 5 and 10 days.

Gout affects joints, with the big toe being the most common target. However, gout doesn’t just favour the toe. It’ll also take its hold on wrists, ankles, knees and small joints in the hands
In between these unwanted attacks, the joints themselves actually feel normal. The causes and symptoms of gout vary little from person to person.

Gout blog part one: two feet on bed

What Are the Symptoms

The symptoms tend to come on pretty quickly and usually only affect one joint, often the big toe. It is estimated that about 70% of people experience their first gout attack in their big toe.
It’s not uncommon however for gout to show up in wrists, fingers, elbows, ankles, knees or small joints in the hands and feet.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Intense pain
  • swelling
  • extreme tenderness
  • changes to the surrounding skin, including redness, itchiness or flakiness

When a Gout attack occurs, it tends to arrive within just a few hours of a trigger. As mentioned previously, once it’s started, it can last for anything from 5 to 10 days.
You may only experience just one gout attack in your lifetime, or it’s possible you could have multiple. This of course depends on your personal triggers and causes.

Gout blog part one: male lower body pictured with hands holding right knee

What Are The Causes

The most common cause of gout is a result of high levels of uric acid in the body. This typically happens when there is a malfunction in uric acid metabolism and excretion.

Some foods are high in something known as purines. Normally, the body breaks these down into a soluble form of uric acid, which is easily eliminated. Those who suffer from gout often lack the ability to turn this uric acid into a soluble and easily eliminated substance and instead form uric acid crystals. These build up in the body and crystallize in the joints, especially in the big toe.

In most cases, purines and uric acid are harmless, but if your body makes too much uric acid or if you don’t excrete it effectively, levels can rise and become too high. Tiny crystals are formed that collect in and around a joint and it is this that causes inflammation and pain in the soft lining of the joint.

Interestingly enough, uric acid is actually a potent antioxidant making it a potent substance for removing damaging oxidising agents in the body. However, this is not the case for everyone. About 70% of gout sufferers produce too much uric acid.

An attack may be triggered if you are unable to metabolise the amount of purines found in certain foods and beverages. For example:

Alcohol

Alcohol raises uric acid levels in the body and is a big trigger for some people. In fact, one of the worst culprits is beer as it contains significant levels of purines. Plus, alcohol is very dehydrating on the body which is also known to trigger gout.

Soft Drinks

When soft drinks are consumed, the fructose cannot be directly used for energy in the body and has to be converted to glucose by the liver. This process creates uric acid and therefore promotes gout.

Experts believe that drinking just two sugar-sweetened soft drinks a day may increase the risk of developing gout. It’s not exactly shocking news to anyone here on the Nourish blog to read that sugary soft drinks aren’t good for you, so cut them and replace them with more healthy alternatives. I personally like water kefir and kombucha for the fizzy side. And naturally, herbal teas and water are excellent.

To learn more about what foods may trigger you, read on to part two of this blog series.

picture of hands with left thumb pressing into right hand between finger and thumb

Many other factors can increase the risk of developing gout, here are some:

Gender

In general, men have a higher risk of developing gout than women. However, women aren’t off the hook. They’re more likely to get gout during and after the menopause.

Genetics

Good ole genetics hey. You win some, you lose some when it comes to what you inherit, and certain genes that you inherit from your parents can determine your likeliness of developing gout. It’s basically a gene that determines how effectively your kidneys can flush uric acid from your body.

Other factors include:

  • weight (being overweight is linked to an increase in developing gout)
  • medications such as diuretics and water tablets
  • medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or kidney problems.

Interestingly, a lack of exercise, stress and even high protein diets have also been linked to increased risk of gout.

Keep reading through this blog series to learn more about natural remedies to help you should you be suffering.

Emily Nöth

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