A new study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism reveals that 8.3 million Americans suffer from the incapacitating condition of gout – up from 6.1 million Americans 20 years ago.
Gout is caused by high uric acid levels in the bloodstream, causing crystals that precipitate in joints of the foot. Gout pain typically affects the joint of the big toe. (This is true in just about 75% of cases.) As uric acid levels increase, so does the likelihood of gout pain. Gout pain typically manifests in episodes – called gout attacks or gout flares. During a gout attack or gout flare, a person feels an extreme amount of pain and experiences severe swelling and redness in the big toe. A gout attack or gout flare can last just hours or days, but over time they can last longer, occur with greater frequency, or even become more painful.
These attacks or flares may occur only at certain times of the year. Typically they start during the night without warning. Patients sometimes complain that it hurts to even have a sheet touch the inflamed area when lying in bed. A number of triggers have been identified which are responsible for gout attacks. They include alcohol, dehydration, certain medications, stress, certain diets that are high in purines from meat and fish, and rapid lowering of uric acid levels with medication.
Treatment of gout is usually done with anti-inflammatory medication and steroids. Lifestyle changes – such as the avoidance of alcohol, diet low in purines from meat and fish, and even exercise – can be helpful in lessening the likelihood that you will suffer from gout attacks.