Everything you need to know about gout
Gout causes inflammation in the joints and affects around 1 in 100 adults.
If your recent test results indicate “high uric acid which predisposes you to gout” this can sometimes be a little confusing to understand. Read on to learn everything you need to know about gout and what can you do about it today.
What is gout?
Gout is a type of arthritis (inflammation of a joint) that is caused by the build-up of uric acid crystals in the joint. Often the big toe is affected but it can be anywhere and can be very painful. Uric acid is the breakdown product from purines. While most of the uric acid present in our bodies is produced by the body itself, the rest comes from our diet. Purines are found in high concentration in rich foods, such as seafood, organ meat, wine and bacon.
Usually, most uric acid is passed out in the urine but in those with gout, uric acid blood levels build up. If levels become too high, tiny grit-like crystals of uric acid can form, collect in a joint and irritate joint tissue which causes inflammation, swelling and pain - a gout attack.
The symptoms of gout include:
- Sudden severe pain in a joint, such as your big toe, feet, hands, wrists, elbows, or knees.
- Hot, swollen, red skin over the affected joint.
As well as a rich diet, there are many other reasons why gout develops, from genetics to lifestyle to other medical conditions and so on. Gout is often extremely painful and the fact you’ve got high uric acid in your blood increases the risk that you might get a ‘gout attack’. But the good news is that now you know you have high uric acid levels, you can do something about it right away.
How do I get high uric acid levels down?
It’s actually pretty straightforward and involves sensible lifestyle modifications; most notably your diet, weight loss and activity. This isn’t something you’ll do overnight but you should see a noticeable reduction in uric acid levels within 6 months.
- Achieving a healthy weight
The biggest lifestyle link to gout is being overweight or obese, this is because being overweight is linked to something called “metabolic syndrome” and this, in turn, causes a cascade of changes which predispose you to gout. You shouldn’t try to lose weight drastically or go on a power diet, but slow and steady weight loss of 1-2lbs per week can make all the difference. The key is regular activity (a minimum of 30 mins brisk walking 5 times per week) and eating sensibly. For the average person of average build, a healthy weight is a BMI less than 25. Visit the NHS website to check your BMI.
- Modify your diet
It’s not about cutting purines out of your diet altogether but it’s worth looking at what you eat and where you can make some adjustments. Small changes now can have big effects down the line.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption
Gout is linked to both chronic low-level drinking and to binges. The occasional drink is okay, but the recommendation is no more than 14 units per week, spread over the week. You can see how many units are in your favourite drinks on the NHS website. You might be surprised!
- You have high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure and are on medication, then it might be worth having a quick chat with your GP to make sure you’re not on any medication which might increase your uric acid levels, in particular, thiazide medications.
- Try to reduce your weight to the ‘healthy range’.
- Try to reduce your alcohol.
- Try to reduce your fizzy drinks, cakes and sweets.
- Try to reduce your purine-rich food.
- Try to increase your fruit and veg.
- Try to increase your starchy carbs.
- Try to increase your low-fat dairy.
- Try to stay well hydrated.
- Try to be active every day.
Re-checking your uric acid levels in 6 months is an excellent way to see if your lifestyle modifications have made a difference to your levels. If you do have a gout attack in the meantime, then make sure you see your GP for treatment.