Home Lifestyle COLUMN: What is gout?

COLUMN: What is gout?

CHERAW, S.C. — Gout is the buildup of uric acid in the body’s joints. Uric acid is a byproduct of purine metabolism in the body. Normally it is excreted in the urine, but higher levels can build up. When it does, uric acid forms crystals in the cooler joints in the body, most commonly at the base of the big toe, although it can affect the foot, ankle, knees, wrists, or elbows. These crystals make a strong inflammatory response very quickly and the pain can be excruciating.

If you ever have toe pain and are wondering if it might be gout, consider this question, “Does it hurt to even look at your toe?” If the answer is no, then it is probably not gout. 

Doctors do not know why some people develop gout and others do not, but there are a number of conditions that make gout more likely. Kidney disease, obesity, male gender, age, and family disposition all play a role. The greatest modifiable risk factor is diet. Certain high purine foods are processed into uric acid in the body. If you had gout in the past, one way to reduce the risk of having another episode is to avoid certain meats including bacon, venison, turkey and organ meats, such as liver. Seafoods such as anchovies, sardines, muscles, cod, herring and trout are also high purine foods. In addition, avoid alcohol (especially beer) and food containing fructose, which includes many processed foods and beverages.   


Fortunately, medicine is available to interrupt the inflammatory response to treat an acute flare of gout. Other medicines prevent gout attacks by increasing the excretion of uric acid. If you think you are having a gout attack, see your doctor right away. They will be able to diagnose the condition and make sure there is not another cause for the pain such as an infection. Gout is also easier to treat the earlier on in the course of the episode. If you or a loved one suffer from this painful disease, take heart. Doctors cannot cure every illness, but they can relieve the painful symptoms of gout. 

McLeod Family Medicine Resident Dr. Michael Shea received his medical degree from The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Dr. Shea provides primary care services for patients at McLeod Primary Care Cheraw working in conjunction with Dr. Susan Robins and Jackie Stafford, DNP. Same or next day appointments are available by calling 843-537-2171.


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