Gout (pronounced GOWT) is a painful, inflammatory disease of the joints caused by crystals of uric acid.
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What Is Gout?
Uric (YUR-ik) acid is a waste product made by normal chemical processes in the body, as well as by the breakdown of certain foods, and it is usually eliminated in urine. Sometimes uric acid builds up and forms crystals, like sugar crystals, that collect in joints such as those of the big toe. When that happens, it can cause a painful inflammatory condition known as gout.
Gout is not life-threatening, but it is extremely painful. An attack of gout begins with pain and inflammation (swelling, tenderness, and redness) in a joint. If the condition becomes chronic, that is, if it comes back many times over a long period, it can cause kidney stones and deformities of the joints.
Ninety percent of patients with gout are men over 40. The condition is not contagious. Doctors once believed that gout was caused by eating rich foods and by drinking too much alcohol. But today, factors such as age, a family history of gout, and obesity, among others, are believed to play more important roles.
How Is Gout Diagnosed and Treated?
There are several ways to diagnose gout, including blood tests, testing fluid in the joints for crystals of uric acid, and taking x-rays.
Treatment often includes weight loss, a lower-protein diet, pain relievers, and medications to reduce the level of uric acid in the blood. Drinking plenty of fluids will help to flush uric acid from the body.
Rich Men and Rich Food
Members of the privileged classes throughout European history often were diagnosed with gout. Researchers once believed this was due to their frequent consumption of meat, starch, and fortified wine. Current research attributes the susceptibility to age (men over age 40), family history, obesity, and other factors.
Among the more notable names from history who qualify under both theories are:
- Ambroise Pare (1510—1590), chief surgeon to three kings of France
- Philip II (1527-1598), king of Spain
- Thomas Sydenham (1624—1689), English physician, sometimes called the "English Hippocrates"
- Benjamin Franklin (1706—1790), American philosopher, diplomat, and statesman
- Samuel Johnson (1709—1784), English lexicographer and writer.
Porter, Roy, and G. S. Rousseau. The Patrician Malady. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
Arthritis Foundation, 1330 West Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309.
The Arthritis Foundation provides information on gout.