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Gout: the disease of excess

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In Spain some 800,000 people currently suffer from gout, according to estimates by the Spanish Society of Rheumatology. In other words, this health issue affects 2.5% of the adult population. These numbers are even more significant if we take into account that gout increases by 30% the probability of dying for any other reason, and up to 40% of dying from cardiovascular causes. But how can one prevent gout?

What is gout?

Gout is a metabolic pathology that occurs due to the increase of uric acid in the blood stream. Uric acid crystals form in the joints, which causes swelling. Gout causes pain, stiffness and even a temperature increase in the joint area. It also has a tendency of affecting the first joint in the foot.

A little bit of history

Gout has been around for a long time and many historical figures have suffered from it. From Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) to Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), through King Philip II or Emperor Charlemagne (742-814), and even the painter Goya (1746-1828).

Nevertheless, the number of cases has decreased over time due to several factors:

  1. The main reason is that in the twenty-first century large segment of the population started eating a more varied and nutritious diet. Today it is known that red meat, organ meats, seafood, beer and fatty sausages provide purines which the body breaks down into uric acid before eliminating via urine.
  2. Lead use. Until just a couple of centuries ago many household and rural utensils, such as mill wheels, were made from this heavy metal which increases uric acid levels in the blood. It was also widely used in paint, in hunting shot/pellets, and in pipes. All in all, large segments of the population received continuous input of this dangerous chemical.

Causes

Gout has a hereditary component, but it is not known exactly what causes it. It is more frequent among men over the age of 40 and people who suffer from:

  • Kidney disease
  • Overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Some types of anaemia such as sickle cell
  • Blood cancers such as leukaemia

It is important to know that gout can occur after taking drugs that interfere with the elimination of uric acid from the body, or hydrochlorothiazide and diuretics, as they can produce higher levels of uric acid in the blood.

Prevention

The tips for preventing gout are clear and simple:

  • Lose weight. As mentioned previously, being overweight is one of the risk factors that must be challenged through daily exercise and proper nutrition.
  • The appropriate diet would not include organs meats, red meat, sausages, seafood, alcohol or blue and canned fish. Watch out too for sugary soft drinks. On the contrary, the intake of dairy products, vegetables, fruits, cereals, coffee, olive oil, juices and eggs is recommended.
  • It is important to remain hydrated. Drinking lots of water and infusions is recommended. Alcohol hinders the elimination of uric acid, so it should be avoided, especially beer because of its high content of purines.

Treatment

Gout is a disease that can be cured. This is achieved by normalising the levels of uric acid in the bloodstream so that the crystals gradually dissolve.

It is vitally important that the symptoms subside in order to avoid even more severe damage and consequent chronic deterioration of the joints. With this in mind, an accurate diagnoses and early treatment is very desirable, as it will make it easier to control the disease.

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