Gout: Not Just for the Rich Anymore

henry8If you’re a history buff, you may know that King Henry VIII had gout. You may not think that gout is a modern day affliction, but you’d be surprised to learn that it is not only alive and well but has increased in frequency over the past two decades. Once known as “the disease of kings”,  gout was historically seen as a condition brought on by the indulgence of rich foods, excessive drinking and a sedentary lifestyle, habits that only the rich and privileged could enjoy.

Today, gout affects men and women from all social and economic backgrounds, occurring most often in men aged 35 to 50 and in menopausal women.  An extremely painful form of inflammatory arthritis, gout typically affects one joint, in most cases at the base of the big toe, although the feet, ankles, knees and elbows are also susceptible.  These sudden attacks commonly begin at night when the joint becomes red, swollen, and warm and is accompanied by a degree of pain that some sufferers can compare only to childbirth.

The onset of this condition is caused by the buildup of uric acid in our bodies to extreme levels.  Normally, uric acid is passed through the kidneys and eliminated in the urine. When the body has accumulated a high level of uric acid or when the kidneys are not functioning properly, urate crystals may form and deposit in the joints, causing inflammation and intense pain.  Uric acid is naturally formed by the body during the breakdown of purines, a substance found in virtually all foods.  However, there are some that contain higher levels than others, such as:

  • Beef
  • Bacon
  • Chicken
  • Crab
  • Duck
  • Fish
  • Alcohol, particularly beer

Treatment of gout includes ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.  This is most effective if taken within the first 24 hours of an attack.  Once the pain and inflammation are under control, treatment may include prescription medications such as allopurinol to block uric acid production.  Changes in lifestyle and a low-purine diet are also key to successfully managing the condition and preventing future attacks.

As for the recent increase in the frequency of gout, research indicates that obesity, diet and a longer life expectancy may all be contributing factors.

Would King Henry VIII’s wives have met with such horrific ends if he had not suffered from this painful condition?


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