Gout is a type of arthritis, in which crystals of sodium urate, produced by the body, can form inside joints.
Gout is more common in men than in women. This is mainly because the female hormone oestrogen that is released during the female reproductive cycle reduces a woman's levels of uric acid by increasing excretion of uric acid via the kidneys. After the menopause, uric acid levels n women rise and they, too, can become liable to getting gout.
It is estimated that, overall, 1 in 70 of UK adults have gout. However, because the incidence of gout increases with age, it affects 1 in 14 older men and 1 in 35 older women.
Gout symptoms usually occur after the age of 30 in men, and after 60 in women.
The most common symptom is sudden and severe pain in the joint, along with swelling and redness. The joint of the big toe is usually affected, but it can develop in any joint.
Symptoms can develop rapidly to their worst point in 6 to 24 hours and usually last for 3 to10 days (this is sometimes known as a gout attack). After this time, the joint will start to feel normal again and any pain or discomfort should eventually disappear completely.
Most people with gout will have further attacks in the future.
Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a waste product made in the body every day and excreted mainly via the kidneys. It forms when the body breaks down chemicals in the cells known as purines.
If you produce too much uric acid or excrete too little when you urinate, the uric acid builds up and may cause tiny crystals to form in and around joints. These hard, needle-shaped crystals build up slowly over several years.
The crystals may cause two problems:
Factors which increase the risk of gout include:
There are two main goals in treating gout:
When medication is taken, as directed with recommended lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet and drinking less alcohol, many people reduce their uric acid levels sufficiently over time and dissolve the crystals that cause gout.
In addition, gout has many causes other than obesity and alcohol consumption, such as the use of certain medications or eating foods that are rich in a substance called purines. Purines are found in beef, pork and seafood. In some cases certain people do not excrete uric acid from their bodies as well as others, and it builds up. For this reason, gout is known to be hereditary and so run in families.
Methods that may help you to reduce your risk of developing gout include maintaining a healthy weight by exercising and eating a healthy diet.