CINCINNATI—You might not be a renowned scientist, founding father or writer, but you still could share a common link with Benjamin Franklin—gout.
Gout is a type of arthritis caused by a buildup of waste products (uric acid) in the blood. The buildup may form hard crystals in the joints, causing pain and in many cases, recurrent joint inflammation.
The common sign of gout is a nighttime attack of swelling, tenderness, redness and sharp pain. Attacks usually occur in the big toe, but can also occur in the feet, ankles, knees and nearly any joint in the body . Gout attacks can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks; days, weeks, months or years may pass between occurrences.
Avis Ware, MD, a professor of medicine in the University of Cincinnati (UC) Division of Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology, says diet plays a key role in developing gout.
“People who consume large quantities of beef, pork and lamb increase their risk of developing gout by 41 percent,” she says.
Additionally, Ware says, a high consumption of fish and shellfish can increase the risk by 50 percent. Ware cites data from a 2004 Health Professional Perspective Study, the most recent published research on the topic. According to Ware, the study says some foods can decrease the risk of gout.
“A higher consumption of vegetable and dairy protein can reduce the risk of your first gout attack by 21 to 48 percent,” she says.
As she explains, gout is more common in men, in women after menopause and those who drink alcohol, especially beer. Wine does not seem to correlate with incidences of gout, but beer and liquor have been shown to increase the risk of gout by up to 50 percent compared to non-beer drinkers.
Non-alcoholic beverages also may impact gout. Ware says people who consume two or more cups of sugar-sweetened soft drinks are 85 percent more likely to develop gout than those who drink one or less. Coffee drinkers can rejoice—the risks decrease as more cups of Joe are consumed.
Gout may run in families, but no data proves it is hereditary, Relatives of family members who have gout seem to be more susceptible. Obesity also increases the chances of getting gout, so Ware advises to drink plenty of water and other fluids, watch your diet and exercise.
Gout is best diagnosed by a rheumatologist, a physician specially trained to treat pain of the joints and soft tissues, autoimmune disorders and other heritable connective tissue disorders. To make a diagnosis, the physician will ask about symptoms and conduct a physical examination. They may also take a fluid sample from the joint to look for uric acid crystals.
Resting the joint and taking anti-inflammatory medicine, like ibuprofen, can help lessen pain, but other treatment, such as prescription medication, may be necessary.