Benjamin Franklin once said “Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, and sloth; or gout will seize you and plague you both”. Once considered a king’s disease, as it was most frequently caused by foods consumed by the wealthy, gout has become a royal pain in the ‘you know what’ for many modern day sufferers.
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that occurs when uric acid (a by-product of digestion) is either over-produced or cannot be excreted from the body. The accumulation of uric acid often results in the formation of uric acid crystals (not the type of crystals you’ll find in Swarovski shops) in the joints. These crystals are identified as ‘foreign invaders’ by the body and attacked by white blood cells resulting in intense pain, swelling and inflammation (experienced as a burning sensation).
Many individuals with gout feel like they are alone, but the condition actually affects approximately half a million Canadians, with men over the age of 40 four times more likely to experience the condition than women. Most often, the condition strikes the big toe, although it can also affect the ankle, knee, foot, hand, wrist and elbow.
Although a gout sufferer himself, Benjamin Franklin wasn’t entirely accurate in his description of gout (no, girl-cooties won’t cause gout). But he was right about a few things. Uric acid buildup can accumulate due to a variety of reasons but is most commonly caused by the consumption of purine-rich foods, such as red meat, seafood, and heavy sauces like gravy. It is also frequently caused by alcohol consumption, especially beer, since it prevents the kidneys from excreting uric acid from the body. Other factors that contribute to an increased risk of elevated uric acid include medication use (such as low dose aspirin and water pills), rare genetic defects, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and menopause.
Make it Stop!
Gout can be a very painful and really debilitating condition to live with. A lifestyle change is an essential step towards recovery. Avoiding foods and beverages that increase uric acid levels, or prevent uric acid from leaving the body, can take you a long way. Medications such as ibuprofen or corticosteroids can also be used to treat the condition. Colchicine can be used to treat a flare-ups, and allopurinol (alone or in combination with colchicine) and uloric been found to be effective medications to prevent gout flares.
Until 2009, gout did not receive much recognition as a form of arthritis and as a result, drug treatments were not readily available. This is changing as newer drugs are undergoing investigation to treat gout. At the Canadian Centre for Clinical Trials, alleviation of gout symptoms is an important area of study and clinical trials are on-going at this site to find effective treatments.
Famous Gout Sufferers
Henry VIII – King of England in the 1500s
Nostradamus – French medical professional who wrote a series of prophesies (died 1556)
Sir Isaac Newton- Sixteenth century scientist famous for discovering gravity (and for having an apple land on his head)
Pablo Neruda- Chilean poet, diplomat, politician and Nobel Prize winner in literature (died 1973)
Jared Leto- American actor, director and musician (born 1971)
Curt Schilling- former professional baseball pitcher (retired 2007 with the Boston Red Sox)