Gout is a form of arthritis that typically strikes in the big toe joint. Gout is extremely painful and can be debilitating. Screenwriters and actors often use gout to comically suggest that a character is either wealthy or a glutton.
At the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, our board-certified rheumatologists diagnose and treat all forms of arthritis, including gout, at our locations in Monroe, Flemington, and Somerville, New Jersey. If you have questions about gout, we want to answer them.
What is gout?
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by uric acid crystals that collect in the soft tissue of a joint, usually a big toe joint. The uric acid crystals form when you eat too much of a substance called purines. Normally, your body breaks down purines into uric acid and then excretes it.
But when you eat too many purines, your body can’t handle the excess uric acid. Instead of being flushed from your body, the acid crystallizes and clumps together. The crystals feel like sharp needles in your joint, which can cause excruciating pain.
Who gets gout?
Almost 4% of all women and men in the United States have gout. Men are three times more likely than women are to develop gout. But once a woman enters menopause and her estrogen levels drop, her risk for gout increases.
You’re more likely to develop gout if you’re:
- Over age 40
You’re also at increased risk for gout if you eat a diet that’s high in purines.
What are purines?
Purines are chemical compounds made of carbon and nitrogen atoms that are found in the cells of all living things. You can’t eliminate purines from your diet, but you can avoid foods that are high in purines. High-purine foods include:
- Organ meats
- Red meat
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Alcohol, especially beer
Some vegetables are also high in purines, but the amount isn’t usually high enough to affect gout. In fact, eating a diet full of moisture- and vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits may help alleviate gout.
Can gout be cured?
Unfortunately, gout can’t be cured. But if you make lifestyle changes — including eating a low-purine diet — you can reduce the severity and frequency of flares. Steps to help your gout include:
- Adopt a low-purine diet
- Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese
- Stay hydrated with water and healthy liquids
- Drink more coffee and tea (they help)
- Eat lots of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit
- Eat more cherries
- Exercise more
A healthy diet, sufficient hydration, and regular exercise helps you process uric acid and excrete it so it doesn’t form crystals and cause a gout flare.
How do I manage pain during a flare?
When you have a gout flare, wear shoes that give your toes plenty of room. In general, you should wear roomy, flat shoes even between flares.
We can prescribe painkillers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). We may also recommend corticosteroid shots to reduce swelling and control pain. Wrapping an icepack and holding it to the sore joint can also reduce pain and swelling.
Long-term medications can reduce the amount of uric acid in your body. You may need to take another medication in combination with it until it has time to build up in your system.
If you have gout or suspect you do, contact us for help with lifestyle changes and controlling pain by phone or online form at the office nearest you today.