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Gout is a common yet complex form of arthritis that affects about four percent of American adults. Figures developed by the Arthritis Foundation show that six million men and two million women have gout. It usually comes on suddenly, with severe attacks of pain and swelling, often targeting the big toe. High levels of uric acid in the body causes gout. Factors that increase uric acid include eating a rich diet of red meat, seafood, and drinking high-sugar or fructose beverages. Alcohol consumption, especially beer, increases uric acid levels as well.

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The signs of gout

Almost all gout attacks occur suddenly, usually at night. The affected joint becomes swollen, feels hot, and even the slightest pressure on it can cause intense pain. The Mayo Clinic lists these signs of gout:

  • Intense joint pain - Most gout attacks occur in the big toe, but other body joints can be affected as well, including ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, and fingers.
  • Lingering discomfort - When the severe pain lessens, discomfort persists for days or weeks. Attacks afterward are likely to last longer and spread to other joints.
  • Inflammation and redness - The affected joint swells, becomes tender and often turns red.
  • Limited range of motion - Usually the affected person can not move joints normally.
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You are what you eat

Hyperuricemia is the term used by doctors to describe high, excess uric acid in the body. Uric acid develops when the body breaks down purines, organic compounds found in many foods. Uric acid is usually eliminated through the kidneys and urine.

If a person has hyperuricemia, either their body overproduces uric acid, or their kidneys cannot process it normally. The excess uric acid builds up slowly over time.

Those who partake in diets rich in red meat and shellfish, both of which contain high levels of purine, are more likely to suffer gout attacks. People with obesity are at a higher risk of contracting gout and are susceptible to having attacks earlier in life.

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Diet is the key

Gout sufferers must develop healthy, long-term strategies of eating to prevent the intense pain of gout. Diets should include vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and plant proteins such as nuts and legumes. Avoid processed foods and those with refined carbohydrates. Be sure to drink lots of water, which helps flush out uric acid.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends these foods:

  • All vegetables
  • Whole grain foods
  • Plant oils (olive, canola, sunflower)
  • Low-fat dairy products, including skim milk
  • Fruits that are less sweet
  • Vitamin C supplements (500 to 1,000 milligrams daily)
  • Coffee
  • Water
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You are what you drink, too

Doctors have found one way to protect against gout attacks is to stay well-hydrated, which means drinking several glasses of water per day.

Drinking liquids with added sweeteners, especially high-fructose corn syrup, can trigger gout. Avoid or eliminate these foods entirely to help stave off future attacks.

Researchers have found drinking too much alcohol, especially beer, is one of the major factors for developing gout. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, men who drink beer to excess are especially vulnerable to gout attacks. Check with your doctor to decide what amount or type of alcohol is safe for you to consume.

There is some evidence that low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk, may protect the body from gout.

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Avoid these foods

The following foods are high in purines and have been found to bring on attacks of gout:

  • red meat (limited consumption is recommended)
  • liver
  • tongue
  • sweetbreads
  • shrimp
  • lobster
  • crab
  • sugary beverages
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • beer
  • other types of alcohol (more than one alcoholic drink for women and two for men, within 24 hours)
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Maintain your weight

Many factors can lead to gout, including age, lifestyle, and sex. Men are more likely to contract gout. The condition is more likely to affect men and women over the age of 60 than younger individuals. But the main cause, according to doctors, is weight. Attaining and maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the uric acid in the blood. Losing weight can have many benefits in addition to fending off gout. Losing weight helps reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

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Risk Factors of Gout

People with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones, or heart disease are much more likely to become infected with gout. There are also some medicines that can result in gout, including over-the-counter painkillers and diuretics used for hypertension. Evidence from the Mayo Clinic suggests anti-rejection medicines used following organ transplants can also trigger gout. Finally, family history is a factor. If other members of your family have gout, you are at risk of developing the illness.

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Severe gout

Untreated, gout can recur more frequently and lead to more advanced and destructive conditions. The condition can cause joint erosion and even eventual destruction. Without treatment, gout causes urate crystals to form under the skin. These nodules are called tophi. Thought tophi are not usually painful, they can become swollen and tender during attacks of gout. Tophi can develop on fingers, hands, feet, elbows, and ankles. If the urate crystals collect in the urinary tract, they can cause kidney stones.

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See your doctor

If you have an attack of gout, you should see your doctor. He or she will diagnose the condition by checking your medical history, To diagnose gout, the doctor will take a medical history and examine the affected joint. A blood test is conducted to determine the amount of uric acid in the blood. Be aware that a high level of uric acid in your blood may not mean you have gout and, conversely, a normal level doesn’t rule it out. The doctor will try to determine the severity of the pain, how long the attack lasted, and which joints have been affected. The surest method of determining whether a patient has gout or not is removing fluid from the affected joint. Finding uric acid crystals in the joint fluid should confirm the diagnosis.

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Cherry-o

In 2012, the U.S. National Library of Medicine published a study that found the consumption of cherries can decrease the likelihood of a gout attack by 35%. The effect of cherry intake was consistent no matter the subject's sex, weight, purine intake, alcohol consumption, diuretic use, or anti-gout medication. When cherries were consumed along with anti-gout medication, the risk of attack was 75% lower.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.