An attack of gout can be so painful that most people would do anything to avoid another. Unfortunately, flare-ups often occur. Studies show that people who have suffered a first attack of gout have a 62% chance of suffering another within a year. The odds climb to almost 80% within two years. "Over time, repeated attacks can eat into bone and cartilage, causing permanent damage to affected joints," says rheumatologist Herbert Baraf, MD, clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University.
Gout occurs when uric acid levels rise too high in the bloodstream. Excess uric acid is deposited as crystals around cartilage and bone. Acute attacks, sometimes called gouty arthritis, occur when these deposits become inflamed and intensely painful.
To diagnose gout, blood and urine tests are needed but may not always give the answer.
Demonstrating high uric acid in the blood is essential, but you can have a high level of uric acid without having gout. Or you may have normal uric acid levels at the time of a gout attack.
To confirm the presence of gout, fluid drawn from the affected joint may be examined under a special polarizing microscope to see if it shows the characteristic crystals.
X-rays are useful in confirming long-term or chronic...
For most people, gout attacks can be largely prevented with proper treatment, experts say. "The biggest problem we see is undertreatment," Lianne Gensler, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told WebMD. "Patients aren't given appropriate medications to prevent flare-ups and complications, or they don't get adequate doses to control their gout."
After a first gout attack
The first step in avoiding repeated attacks of gout is eliminating factors that can trigger gout. Certain medications can raise uric acid levels too high. These include some commonly used blood pressure pills, chemotherapy for cancer, niacin (vitamin B supplements), and aspirin. In many cases, doctors can prescribe alternative medications that don't increase the risk of gout.
Lifestyle factors can also contribute to gout. To avoid problems, experts recommend:
Drinking plenty of fluids to remain well-hydrated.
Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, especially beer. However, moderate wine drinking does not appear to increase your risk of gout.
Limiting the amount of organ meats, sardines, anchovies, and red meats you eat. These foods are high in purines.
Avoiding sweetened beverages, especially those containing fructose, which have been linked to higher risk of gout.