Arthritis and Gout
What Causes Gout?
Gout results from abnormal deposits of uric acid crystals in the joint cartilage. The crystals are later released into the joint fluid.
Gout was once incorrectly thought to be a disease of only the rich and famous, caused by consuming too much rich food and fine wine. Although diet and excessive drinking contribute to gout, they are not the main cause of the condition. We now know that heredity plays a role in the development of gout, and it's often associated with other medical problems like high blood pressure.
Not everyone with high levels of uric acid will develop gout. The kidneys' ability to rid the body of uric acid is partly determined by heredity. And just because someone in the family suffers from gout does not mean everyone in that family will have the disease. This risk varies from person to person.
How Frequent Are Gout Attacks?
Gout attacks can recur from time to time in the same joint. The initial attack may last several days to two weeks unless treated.
Over time, gout attacks may occur more often, involve more joints, have more severe symptoms and last longer. Repeated attacks can damage the joint.
Some people will have only a single attack. However, most people who have one gout attack will have at least a second attack, although it may not occur for several years after the initial onset. Others may have attacks every few weeks.
Who Is Affected By Gout?
Gout affects more than two million Americans -- most commonly men between ages 40 and 50, people who are overweight, people who frequently drink alcohol, and people who use diuretics ("water pills") to lower blood pressure or treat heart failure.
When gout affects women, it usually is after menopause, especially in women who are taking certain medications. Less often, younger people may be affected by gout if they have been taking certain medications for long periods of time, frequently drink alcoholic beverages or have certain genetic disorders.
In addition to diuretics, there are some medications that reduce the body's ability to flush out uric acid, thus increasing the risk for developing gout. These medicines include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs made from salicylic acid, such as aspirin
- Cyclosporine, a medicine used to suppress the body's immune system (Cyclosporine is often used to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.)
- Levodopa, a medicine used to treat Parkinson's disease
- Niacin, a vitamin that is part of the vitamin B complex and sometimes used to treat high cholesterol