What Causes Gout?

Thursday 3 September 2020

Table of Contents

I. What Is Gout?

II. How Does Gout Occur?

a. What are Purines?

b. What is Uric Acid?

c. What Causes Gout?

III. Risk Factors for Gout

a. Age, Gender, and Genetics

b. Diet and Body Weight

c. Medical History

What Is Gout?

Gout is a common form of arthritis that affects over eight million Americans. It is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis in men. [1] [2] Gout is an inflammatory condition that causes severe pain and swelling in the affected joint. For more than half of patients, gout affects the base of the big toe. However, the condition can affect any joint and is also common in fingers, toes, knees, and feet. [3]

Gout causes sudden flare-ups of symptoms known as episodes. The pain caused by an episode is most severe for the first twelve hours but may cause some discomfort for several weeks. [4] As well as being painful, the affected joint may be tender, swollen, and warm to the touch. It can also appear red or purple in color. Depending on where in your body gout is present, you may also have limited mobility. It can be incredibly painful to put weight on your knee or foot if you have this condition. After a gout episode, there is a period of remission with no symptoms. These remission periods can last for weeks, months, or even years. [5]

A man sitting on the floor holding his knee

Gout is a chronic condition and cannot be entirely cured. [6] However, treatments are available that can reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. Medications can also help prevent complications such as bone or kidney damage. [1] Colcrys (colchicine) and prednisone are anti-inflammatory medications that can be used to relieve the pain caused by gout. For patients that have regular recurring gout, doctors may prescribe Uloric (febuxostat) or Zyloprim (allopurinol) to reduce the frequency of episodes.

Keep reading to learn about the causes of gout and factors that can increase the risk of developing this condition.

How Does Gout Occur?

a. What are Purines?

People with gout will have probably heard the word purines countless times, but may not actually know what they are. Purines are a chemical compound that is naturally found in the body but is also found in the food and drinks that we consume.

While all food and drinks contain purines, some have higher levels than others. People with gout should avoid or limit their amounts of high-purine foods. A food is considered high in purines if it has a purine content higher than 200mg per 100g of food. Foods that are particularly high in purines include red meat, seafood, sugary foods, and alcohol, especially beer and whiskey. [7]

A man preparing to eat a large burger

b. What is Uric Acid?

Uric acid is a natural chemical that the human body produces as a waste product when the liver breaks down purines. Uric acid is then released into the blood before being filtered by the kidneys and removed from the body through urination.

c. What Causes Gout?

Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid. This can happen when either the body produces too much uric acid or it removes too little. When a build-up occurs, urate crystals can form. These crystals are typically formed overnight when the body’s core temperature drops. Urate crystals are incredibly sharp and painful, causing an inflammatory response from the body’s immune system. It is this pain and inflammation that is known as gout.

Risk Factors for Gout

a. Age, Gender, and Genetics

Men typically have a higher level of uric acid in their bodies and are four times more likely to develop gout than women. [8] Gout can occur at any age but is rare in children and young adults. For men, diagnosis of gout typically occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. In women, it usually follows menopause. [9]

Scientists believe that gout is at least partially genetic. People with a close relative that has gout are more likely to develop the condition. There is no gene that directly correlates to the development of gout. However, certain genes that are responsible for the removal and transportation of uric acid may contribute to gout. [10]

b. Diet and Body Weight

Uric acid is produced by breaking down purines. While purines are natural in the body, the more that you consume, the more that needs to be broken down. For this reason, diet is an incredibly important factor for developing gout. People with gout should think carefully about their diet and speak to a doctor or nutritionist if needed.

Somebody standing on a set of scales

As well as trying to follow a low-purine diet, people with gout should try and reach a healthy body weight. Research suggests that people that are overweight or obese develop gout around a decade earlier than people of a healthy weight. [11]

c. Medical History

Usually, people that have gout have many other medical conditions. More than 50 percent of gout patients have five or more chronic conditions. Often, these include high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, and diabetes. [4] [12]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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