What Causes Gout and How Is It Treated
Until you have experienced a gout attack or seen first hand someone who is in the throws of the fiery pain, you may not think twice about your uric acid content. But by the end of this article, I hope you do.
Gout is actually a form of inflammatory arthritis where you get severe pain and tenderness in your joints as well as redness. It is extremely painful and comes in waves, also known as gout attacks.
Knowing how something is caused is often the best way to figure out how to treat it. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do here. I’ll start off by explaining the causes and risk factors then we will move into treatment options and prevention tips.
What Causes Gout?
To really understand the cause of gout, you need to know about three things:
- Uric acid
- Urate crystals
Most likely, you eat purines all the time (especially if you are a meat eater). You even have purines already in your body. They are simply molecule that’s in both DNA and RNA.
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You eat the purines and then the body has to break down the purines. This process ends up in a waste product that’s called uric acid. Then the uric acid dissolves and passes into your kidneys, down your urinary tract, and out the body with your urine.
All of this is normal and healthy… unless something goes wrong.
Sometimes the body does not adequately pass the uric acid. Maybe you’ve made too much (like when you eat too many purines) or maybe your body has a hard time excreting it (this can come from lots of other health conditions). This is then called hyperuricemia.
When this build up happens, your body can start forming urate crystals.
These urate crystals will start accumulating in your joints – often around your big toe. This causes inflammation and that intense, burning pain… otherwise known as a gout attack. On average, these can last anywhere between 3 to 10 days.
It’s also important to realize that this buildup of uric acid can also cause uric acid kidney stones. So there are multiple reasons to get this hyperuricemia in check.
Factors That Lead To Gout
So we now know that uric acid causes gout, but what causes all that uric acid? Here are some of the top risk factors that lead people to experiencing gout:
- Food: Eating lots of food that is high in purines can absolutely make you more susceptible to gout – this includes meat, seafood, and beer (find a comprehensive list below)
- Gender: Men are much more likely to have gout than women. However, as women age their chances do increase – especially after menopause.
- Age: Men normally experience gout between 30 and 50.
- Weight: Those who are overweight tend to produce more uric acid; plus, the kidneys have a harder time getting rid of uric acid.
- Medications: If you take low-dose aspirin, thiazide diuretics, or anti-rejection drugs (for transplants), you have a higher risk of developing gout.
- Diseases: Those with conditions like diabetes or kidney disease are more likely to develop gout than healthy adults.
- Genes: If you have a long family history of gout, chances are you will have gout too.
- Trauma: Trauma to the body – like surgery – can be a factor in developing gout.
If you feel like some of these risk factors apply to you, you will want to pay close attention to the treatment options below. Instead of waiting to see if this becomes an issue, be proactive. Also talk about your concerns at your next doctor’s appointment.
Top 5 Treatments For Gout
There are lots of options for treating gout and preventing a gout attack from ever popping up again. The pain of a gout attack should be severe enough to give you motivation for seeking immediate help. But anyone who is at risk for gout should still pay attention to steps 3, 4, and 5.
Here are some of the most important steps you can take to treat gout:
1. Prescription Medications
Normally people with a gout attack will start taking some sort of pain reliever or other medication for gout. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These non-steroid pain relievers can help a gout attack and you don’t need a prescription for them
- Colchicine: This is another type of pain reliever that can do a great job in helping with gout pain, but it is known for uncomfortable side effects like vomiting
- Corticosteroids: Steroids can help with gout attacks too, but normally they are given out as the last case scenario after NSAIDs.
- Xanthine Oxidase Inhibitors: These medications will reduce the amount of uric acid the body makes
- Probenecid: This medication helps the body remove uric acid properly
If a gout attack hits you, start by taking your over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen, for example) and make an appointment with your doctor right away to talk about what other options will work best for you.
2. Start Self-Care Immediately
Since you will be experiencing a gout attack for multiple days, you will want to do everything in your power to calm the pain and discomfort immediately. Here are some at-home self-care steps.
After you have spoken with your doctor and taken an anti-inflammatory, you should…
- Ice your joint: Do this repeatedly throughout the day for 20 to 30 minute periods of time. Cover the ice pack in a thin towel or dish cloth so the ice doesn’t hurt the skin around the area
- Elevate: Since gout is most commonly in the foot, elevate the foot as much as you can throughout the day – higher than your chest is best.
- Drink water, not wine: Drinking plenty of water is essential for flushing out all the excess uric acid that is currently in your body. It is equally important to avoid any alcohol during this time because alcohol makes it harder for your body to excrete the uric acid.
- Distract yourself: Stress can make the inflammation worse, so try to do things that distract your mind. Watching a funny moving or talking to a friend or loved one is great.
- Purchase a cane: This will help you move around as you need to.
- Make a Gout Sock: During a gout attack, I’m sure you will want nothing touching your toe. Cut the big toe area out of a pair of socks so you can still stay warm
3. Natural Remedies
The great news is there are many all-natural supplements that can help you treat and prevent gout attacks too.
- Tart Cherries: Cherries work double time to help you with gout. They can lower uric acid and reduce inflammation. Though eating cherries is helpful, the ideal solution is a supplement that has concentrated amounts of the cherry benefits
- Celery Seed Extract: Celery seed extract can both help decrease uric acid content and calm the pain of gout with its anti-inflammatory properties
- Chanca Piedra: Chanca
piedrawill help you with the gout inflammation as it does something else that’s very important…it will help prevent all that excess uric acid from becoming a uric acid kidney stone.
- Hydrangea: Hydrangea is a great anti-inflammatory and is known to work especially well on joint pain
4. Limit Your Purines
Here’s the logic: the fewer purines you consume, the less uric acid is created by your body and the lower chances you have of developing gout.
You will probably never be able to fully cut out purines from your diet. But you can greatly limit your intake.
Here’s a short list of some of the worst purine offenders. These should probably be entirely avoided:
- Organ meat (liver, spleen, sweet breads)
- Game meat (like venison or duck)
- Yeast (so no more beer)
- Sardines, anchovies, mussels, scallops, and tuna
Here’s a list of foods that are moderate in purines, so you should limit them:
- All other meats (including processed meat)
- Crab, lobster, oysters, and shrimp
- Beans and lentils
- Peas, spinach, cauliflower, asparagus, mushrooms
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Here are some low purine foods you can have plenty of:
- All other vegetables
- Peanut butter
- Low-fat dairy
One of the easiest ways to make this happen is to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle or a largely vegetarian lifestyle. Fill your plate up produce. Though a handful of veggies are higher in purines, some studies show that vegetable purines do not lead to gout. Here are a few veggie-based dinner recipes to start you out:
Wine is a better alternative than beer, but alcohol in general can raise your uric acid levels. So only drink it in moderation.
5. Start Losing Weight Today
Being overweight is one of the most avoidable, yet powerful reasons you have too much uric acid in your body. Some studies even show that those who lose weight can get rid of gout without eating fewer purines. It’s that impactful.
You will need to start a healthy diet filled with nutrient-rich produce and lower purine proteins. Your doctor or a nutritionist can give you calorie goals and nutrition plans.
Then you need to start exercising as soon as this gout attack has passed and your joints are ready to get moving. Working with a professional trainer who is knowledgeable about joint pain and inflammation can make a regular, moderate workout routine sustainable for you over the long haul.
A Gout Sufferer’s Next Steps
If you or someone you know has dealt with gout, hopefully this explanation on the causes and treatment options brings you the information you need to either prevent or greatly minimize a future gout attack.
If you are experiencing a gout attack right now take your anti-inflammatory medication right away. Then use an ice pack on the intense area. Drink a glass of water and then call your doctor immediately.
Be sure to start the natural supplements, so they can work their magic on reducing your uric acid and your inflammation naturally and with no side effects.