What is Gout?
Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in the blood, causing joint inflammation and pain. Gout is much more prevalent in men, but becomes more common in women after menopause.
To understand the cause of gout, you also have to understand uric acid. Uric acid is naturally present in the human body and is produced when cells die and release purines. (Don’t Google ‘purine’ – we did it for you: “A colorless crystalline compound… forming uric acid on oxidation.”) Purines are also introduced to the body through certain foods that are now considered triggers of Gout.
Normally, uric acid is pushed out of the body through the urinary system, but heredity, diet, kidney problems, and rapid weight loss can cause the uric acid to accumulate. A high level of uric acid is known as ‘hyperuricemia,’ which puts you at a high risk for gout.
If too much uric acid accumulates, you can develop urate crystals (needle-like crystals made of uric acid) in joints, skin, and other tissues. As you can imagine, a needle-like crystal sticking out of your joint and into the surrounding skin, tissue, muscles, and veins would be excruciatingly painful.
This is gout. Typically, these crystals develop in the joint at the base of the big toe (left) which can make walking and standing extremely painful.
There are a few factors that can put you at a higher risk for gout:
- Excessive Alcohol Use. Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day (on average) will increase your risk of developing gout.
- Heredity. Yes, you can blame your parents for this one. A family history of gout means you’re more likely to develop the condition yourself.
- Age and Sex. Gout is also quite sexist. It is more common in men because they naturally have higher levels of uric acid in their system. After menopause, a woman’s uric acid level also increases so women are more at risk for developing gout at this time.
- Medical Conditions. Untreated high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and narrow arteries (arteriosclerosis) can heighten the risk of developing gout.
- Diet. Some foods increase the level of purines in the body, which increases the level of uric acid. Not only will these foods heighten the risk of developing gout, but if you already have gout these foods could trigger a flare up.