Arthritis is an umbrella term for a wide array of inflammatory joint diseases. You may have heard of the most common types, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but gout doesn’t seem to get the same attention. But just because you don’t hear about it often doesn’t mean it isn’t a prevalent health concern: It affects more than 9 million Americans (about 4% of the population).
So what is gout, and how might it affect your life? Our branch of Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists in Salt Lake City, including board-certified podiatrists, Dr. Dan Preece and Dr. Darren Groberg, can answer all your questions about gout so you can prevent it, spot it, and treat it.
One of arthritis’ many variations, gout was once called the “king’s disease,” because it’s common in those who indulge in rich (often expensive) foods.
Fish and shellfish, organ meats, and certain vegetables and grains (including alcohol) contain purines, an organic compound that is not harmful on its own. But when your body breaks it down, it turns into uric acid, which can be harmful if not expelled.
Normally, you get rid of uric acid when you urinate, but if you have too much in your blood, it crystallizes and settles in your joints. These sharp shards can find a home in any of your joints, but they typically land in your big toe, where it’s far from your heart and therefore not as warm as other joints, as uric acid likes a cool and steady temperature.
Gout compared to other types of arthritis
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, but a few of the most common are:
- Osteoarthritis: worn-down cartilage in your weight-bearing joints
- Rheumatoid arthritis: an autoimmune disease that affects your joints the same on both sides
- Psoriatic arthritis: affects your joints and skin
- Lupus: an autoimmune disease that affects your joints and organs
- Gout: crystalized uric acid accumulated (usually) in your big toe
The symptoms of gout most closely mirror the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: they both cause red, swollen joints that can be so painful it’s debilitating. They can both affect the feet and hands, which can make it difficult to tell the difference. And to make it even more confusing, about 2% of those who have rheumatoid arthritis also have gout.
To determine which type of arthritis you have and which type of treatment will work best, our team thoroughly examines your affected joint or joints, discusses your symptoms, evaluates your medical history and lifestyle, and uses X-rays and lab tests to arrive at a diagnosis.
What you can do about gout
You can give yourself the best chance of avoiding gout by steering clear of purine-rich foods and drinks — not only shellfish and liver, but also beer, which is very high in purines. Drinking two beers a day can put you at risk.
High blood pressure is another factor linked to gout. The problem is twofold, because many medications prescribed to lower your blood pressure also increase uric acid.
If you have gout — and you’ll know you have it when you have a sudden attack of excruciating pain in a joint — you may be able to calm it with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain reliever like ibuprofen.
Elevating the joint also helps reduce inflammation and alleviate some pain, and staying well-hydrated may help prevent flare-ups.
Severe bouts of gout may call for professional help, in which case, Dr. Preece and Dr. Groberg are here to help with prescription-strength medications and corticosteroid injections when necessary.
If you suffer from gout and need help getting your symptoms under control, call us today or request an appointment online to get the relief you need.