By N. Lawrence Edwards, MD, Rheumatologist and Chairman, Gout & Uric Acid Education Society
Gout is not a disease that gets a lot of attention. Consequently, gout is widely misunderstood and often understated by the general public – and even by those who suffer from the disease. In fact, just 10 percent of people with gout receive needed, ongoing treatment. This needs to be changed, considering the devastating consequences of untreated gout and elevated serum uric acid (SUA) levels.
Caused by an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints and other tissues, gout is an extremely painful and chronic form of arthritis. Affecting more than 8.3 million Americans and growing, gout is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis – even three to four times more common than Rheumatoid Arthritis, yet it gets just a fraction of the attention. Despite its growing prevalence, 70 percent of Americans don’t know that gout is a form of arthritis; three-quarters don’t know what parts of the body it affects; and half are unaware of gout’s potentially crippling consequences.
Many people may recognize the classic signs of a gout attack – sudden pain, warmth and swelling in one or more joints. Gout often begins in the big toe, but can also affect other areas including the feet, ankle, wrists, hands and elbows. The pain during a gout flare is so excruciating that many visit the emergency room for care. On a typical pain scale, most people with gout will rank their pain as a nine or a 10 – with even the slightest touch causing agony.
N. Lawrence Edwards, MD, Rheumatologist and Chairman, Gout & Uric Acid Education Society
What many do not realize is that gout goes far beyond a flare-up. Untreated gout and elevated SUA levels can lead to permanent joint damage, destruction of tissue, deformities and even loss of normal joint use. Gout has even been connected with other serious health problems, including kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Gout is a disease that requires lifelong treatment and management – not just during a flare. Proper treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis by a medical professional. Once the diagnosis is made, a plan for management can begin. For everyone, this includes lowering SUA levels to a target of less than 6 mg/dL. For the majority, this requires taking long-term uric acid-lowering medications. Everyone with gout should also take steps such as exercising regularly and avoiding foods that are high in purines – like beer, red meat and seafood – and high-fructose corn syrup.
Gout most commonly affects middle-aged men, but it can affect anyone at any time. Anyone suspecting gout should talk to their medical professional immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment can help pave the way for a healthy future.
The Gout & Uric Acid Education Society is the leading nonprofit organization for providing medically-based gout information. To learn more, visit GoutEducation.org.
Want to put your gout knowledge to the test? Visit GoutQuiz.org.
About N. Lawrence Edwards, MD
As Chairman of the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society, Dr. Edwards is committed to educating the public and health care community about gout and the related consequences of hyperuricemia. Dr. Edwards is also a Professor of Medicine for Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at the University of Florida.
Each year October 12 is recognized as World Arthritis Day. It was established in 1996 by Arthritis and Rheumatism International (ARI) as an opportunity to raise awareness of issues affecting people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases.