It is estimated that close to 1.5 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis. Though rheumatoid arthritis is more widely known, gout affects a far larger number of people. One estimate says that gout affects around 8.3 million people in the United States. Both conditions are the effect of inflammation, but they are more different than alike. Rheumatoid arthritis and gout have different causes, treatments, and long-term prognoses.
Gout is a type of inflammatory disease that is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. This build-up causes microscopic crystals to form, which triggers the immune system to increase inflammation as a way of protecting the joints. Like arthritis, gout can become a chronic condition. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, however, this inflammation often occurs primarily in the big toe.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of inflammatory disease where the body attacks healthy tissue in the joints. Unlike gout, it is not caused by anything in the bloodstream. At the onset, it usually affects the hands and feet, but can spread to any other joint in the body. Another way it is different from gout: it can spread to the organs. In individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system can begin to attack organs such as the heart and lungs.
The symptoms of gout include inflammation and swelling in the big toe and other joints. Its primary indicator is the timing and types of attacks. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, gout can come in attacks and waves. Early attacks are often at night and are characterized by sharp, unbearable pain in the big toe. The toe joint will feel swollen and hot, and the pain can last several days. A person can have frequent attacks or just the occasional one every couple of months or even years.
Rheumatoid arthritis can include stiffness and tenderness of the joints in the hands, feet, or legs. They can also feel whole-body symptoms, such as fever, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Stiffness can occur upon waking up or after sitting for long periods. When rheumatoid arthritis becomes more severe, the joints can look out of place and deformed.
Gout can be treated with both medication and lifestyle changes. Certain medication will lower uric acid levels in the blood and treat inflammation, but the root causes of the inflammation will still need to be addressed. Uric acid is heightened by purines, which naturally occurs in the body but is also found in certain foods like red meat and beer. Doctors often tell people with gout to limit their intake of these foods to reduce flare-ups.
Rheumatoid arthritis is treated with medication to help reduce the inflammation and slow the progression of joint damage. While remaining active and healthy is always a good option, lifestyle adjustments are not directly correlated to improving rheumatoid arthritis the way it is with gout. Frequently, long-term physical therapy is useful to help the person maintain joint function and range of motion.
Gout can be prevented by maintaining a healthy diet. Historically, gout has been known as the "disease of kings" due to its association with enjoying "rich" foods such as red and fatty meats, and certain alcohols. Consuming foods like this will help maintain healthy levels of purines in the body. Events that stress the body can also trigger attacks of gout, such as illness and regular inebriation. Limiting alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is the primary way to prevent gout.
One of the main ways to prevent rheumatoid arthritis is by keeping a healthy lifestyle. Smoking is a factor in developing rheumatoid arthritis, so quitting or reducing the habit, if you smoke, can significantly reduce your chances of developing the disease. A side effect of rheumatoid arthritis is bone loss, known as osteoporosis. Though keeping your bones healthy via diet and exercise won't keep you from developing rheumatoid arthritis, it can prevent significant bone loss.
It is well-known that a family history of gout increases an individual's risk of developing the condition exponentially. It also affects men more commonly than women until the age of 60, when women's estrogen production decreases. Estrogen seems to be able to prevent the development of gout. Medications can also increase someone's risk of developing gout since medicines like diuretics can increase uric acid levels in the body. Ailments such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes all make one more predisposed to developing gout.
Rheumatoid arthritis, like gout, is also a genetic disease. If a family member has it, your risk goes up. Unlike gout, however, rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than men. Obesity increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, even in younger people. Environmental factors such as chemical exposure are also thought to contribute in some way to its development. As mentioned previously, smoking cigarettes is also a proven risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis.
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