Gout is a painful inflammation of the joints. An attack of gout usually comes on very quickly and the joint becomes red, swollen and very painful. Gout most commonly affects the big toe but can occur in other joints including the hands, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.
Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood, which forms tiny crystals in some joints in the body. Everyone has some uric acid in the blood but levels don’t usually become too high because uric acid is continuously removed from the body by the kidneys. In some people, however, uric acid isn’t excreted quickly enough or too much is being produced. The excess uric acid forms crystals in the joints, causing inflammation and pain.
While gout can affect anyone, it is more common in men than women and in older people than younger people. In women, it doesn’t usually occur before menopause.
Gout is also more likely to occur if you:
- are carrying excess weight
- have high blood pressure, high blood fat levels or diabetes
- have kidney disease
- are taking diuretics (medications that remove water from the body)
- drink alcohol, particularly beer and spirits
If you have an attack of gout it is important to see your doctor, who can recommend certain medications to help with reducing the pain and inflammation. They can also provide you with advice on reducing the risk of further episodes of gout, as frequent attacks can cause irreversible damage to the joint and the nearby bone.
Reduce the Risk of Gout
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of gout. These include:
- taking medication to lower uric acid levels,
- avoiding or limiting alcohol intake, and if you do drink, choosing wine over beer and spirits
- losing weight gradually if you are overweight (rapid weight loss can increase uric acid levels)
- avoiding foods high in purines (which can increase uric acid levels) including meat (particularly red meat and organ meats), seafood (particularly shellfish, scallops, mussels, herring, mackerel, sardines and anchovies) and foods and drinks containing yeast, such as vegemite and beer.
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