All you need to know about gout

The Asian Age.  | Kaniza Garari

Life, Health

With the incidence of gout on the rise, here’s what you need to know about the disease, its diagnosis and treatment.

Gout can affect any joint. However, some common sites of uric acid build-up are the big toe, the finger joints, the ankles, and the knees. The result is an intense, chronic pain.

Gout is a form of arthritis that is characterised by recurrent attacks of joint pain. In what seems to be an alarming trend, more and more Indians in their 30’s and early 40’s are being diagnosed with the condition.

Over the last 50 years, the incidence of gout has increased world-over. It is one of the major co-morbid conditions exhibited by obese, hypertensive and arthritic patients. Dr N. Somasekhar Reddy, a senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Apollo Hospitals, explains the condition and why there is a need for increased awareness about the problem.

What is gout?
Gout is a condition in which the salts of some protein breakdown and start circulating in the blood in excess amounts. These salts get deposited in tissues, usually those close to the joints, causing irritation and inflammation, which is manifested as pain and swelling. In later stages of the condition, the accumulation of salts can even destroy tissues and lead to the formation of kidney stones. Gout is caused by high uric acid levels in the body. Uric acid is a waste product that should be excreted by the kidneys, failing which it remains in the bloodstream and forms salts.

Why has there been an increase in the incidence of gout?
A high-protein diet, frequent consumption of alcohol and regular intake of fast foods contribute to the condition, but gout may also be genetic. It has been found that most of those who suffer from the condition in their middle-age have a genetic predisposition to it. More men are found to suffer from gout than women. Over the last two decades, the condition is being seen in youngsters as well.

What are the symptoms of gout?
The characteristic signs of gout include a sudden onset of joint pain and swelling, heating up of the affected area, and redness.

Gout can affect any joint. However, some common sites of uric acid build-up are the big toe, the finger joints, the ankles, and the knees. The result is an intense, chronic pain.

In some patients, the dip in ambient temperatures at night leads to a sharp, shooting pain in the knees, finger joints, ankles and big toes. Some may also develop a fever.

Is gout often mistaken for arthritis?
Point three per cent of the Indian population now suffers from gout. When a patient comes to us with gout, we are able to diagnose the condition correctly. Earlier, it was often mistaken for arthritis. However, there isn’t enough awareness about gout in patients.

How can it be treated?
Gout can be treated with medication. It is perhaps the only arthritic condition for which medicines have proven effective. First, patients are given medicines to relieve them of their acute pain. Once they feel better, a long-term course of medication is started to prevent further attacks. But medication alone may not be sufficient; the patients should make few lifestyle changes as well. Foods rich in Vitamin C can help prevent gout.  

Which natural foods can help fight gout?
A recent study has shown that the consumption of cherries over a two-day period is associated with a 35 per cent decrease in the risk of gout, and the consumption of cherry extract is associated with a 45 per cent decrease in risk.

According to the study, cherries may lower serum uric acid levels. Fruits and their extracts contain high levels of anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties.