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Tue, Feb. 18

Untreated gout can lead to permanent damage

Gout was once called "the rich man's disease" because it was believed to be caused by an excess of food and drink. Today, however, much more is known about gout, including the fact that we all are susceptible to this painful condition.

Gout is a form of arthritis that causes swollen, red, hot and stiff joints. It is triggered by excessive levels of uric acid in the blood that form urate crystals around joints and cause inflammation.

Gout most commonly affects the large joint of the big toe, but it can also affect the feet, ankles, knees, hands and wrists. People with gout often report that it feels like their big toe is on fire. Symptoms occur without warning and often at night, with the most severe pain happening within 12-24 hours of an attack. Even after the attack, gout sufferers may experience lingering discomfort.

Subsequent attacks have been known to last longer and affect more areas.

Fortunately, gout is treatable. To diagnose the condition, a doctor may draw fluid from the affected joint or order a blood test to measure the amount of uric acid in the blood. Treatment typically includes medications such as non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs. Left untreated, gout can lead to permanent joint and kidney damage.

The American Dietetic Association recommends that gout sufferers make certain changes to their diets during a gout attack. These include drinking 8-16 cups of fluid each day (at least half of it water), avoiding alcohol, eating a moderate amount of protein from healthy sources such as low-fat dairy and eggs, and limiting intake of meat, fish and poultry to 4-6 ounces a day.

While anyone can get gout, it's more common among men, those who drink alcohol or people who have a family history of gout. Women also are more susceptible to gout once they are past menopause. Other gout risk factors include untreated high blood pressure and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and narrowing of the arteries.

The National Institutes for Health financed a study of 47,000 men over a 20-year period that identified a possible link between vitamin C intake and a lower risk of gout. More research is needed, however, to determine if consuming more vitamin C helps reduce the risk of gout.

In the meantime, if you have gout-like symptoms, your first stop should be a physician who will diagnose and treat the condition.

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