Known as “the disease of kings” or “the rich man’s disease,” Gout earned these monikers centuries ago. The painful condition generally afflicted monarchs and the wealthy classes of people that could afford diets rich in fatty meats, seafood, fine wines, distilled spirits and ales.
As society evolved, these types of dietary indulgences got less expensive and more accessible, becoming mealtime staples in the United States.
As a result, Gout is no longer just the “disease of kings.”
Gout is a severe form of arthritis that is more common in men, but affects women as well. It’s caused by a buildup of uric acid in the body. The accumulation of uric acid creates sharp, crystalline deposits in the kidneys, under the skin and, more often, in joints like the big toe.
“An attack of Gout can occur suddenly, often waking you up in the middle of the night with sensations that your big toe is fire,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “The affected joint is hot, swollen and so tender that even the weight of the sheet on it may seem intolerable.”
What are the Symptoms of Gout?
The first few flare-ups of Gout usually improve in three to 10 days, even without treatment, but episodes are intensely painful and uncomfortable. Left untreated, attacks of Gout will last longer and effect more joints.
According to the NIH, the symptoms of Gout can include the following:
- Extreme pain in the joints; the big toe is the most common joint, but people experience it in the feet, instep, heel, hands and wrists as well
- The effected joints get red, inflamed and warm to the touch
- Range of motion in these joints is limited due to swelling and pain
- As the pain wears off, a lingering discomfort can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks
What Causes Gout?
Uric acid comes from the breakdown of purines, a natural substance found in all of the body’s tissue. Purines are also found in animal tissue, like red meats, organ meats and seafood.
Substances high in sugar, such as alcohol and drinks sweetened with fructose, promote higher levels of uric acid. When the kidneys can no longer process all the uric acid in the body, crystal deposits begin to develop and lead to Gout.
A balanced diet, along with regular exercise is an effective method of preventing Gout, but avoiding alcohol is even more important for those prone to the condition.
A study published in Harvard’s The Lancet medical journal, followed 47,000 men with no history of Gout over a 12-year period. Nearly two percent developed Gout by the end of the study, and those that drank beer increased their risk of Gout by 50 percent with each daily serving of the beverage.
Men who drank liquor increased their risk by 15 percent.
Subsequent research has identified wine as a trigger to Gout attacks as well. A 2014 American Journal of Medicine study of a 724 Gout patients found that one or two glasses of wine in the 24 hours before an episode increased the likelihood of more attacks by 138 percent.
How is Gout Treated?
Gout is treatable with anti-inflammatories and corticosteroids, such as prednisone, but these medications come with their own side effects.
The most effective method of prevention is a healthy lifestyle, with a modest to zero intake of alcohol and fatty red meats.
Experiencing one painful episode of Gout will most definitely not make anyone feel like a king.