What is Gout?
Gout is a painful condition caused by deposits of excess uric acid, in the form of crystals, in the joints and/or soft tissues of the body. These uric acid crystals can cause inflammatory arthritis characterized by intermittent swelling, redness, heat, pain, and stiffness in the joints.
Uric acid is a normal by-product of the body’s breakdown of purines which are found in many foods, such as anchovies, sardines, scallops, dried beans and peas, asparagus, mushrooms, game meats, beef kidneys, liver, gravy, and more. Normally, uric acid is dissolved in the blood, passed through the kidneys, and eliminated through urine. Hyperuricemia, elevated levels of uric acid in the blood, contributes to the development of gout.
How is Gout Diagnosed?
Symptoms of gout can be vague. Elevated levels of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia) does not always cause gout. Persons experiencing an acute gout attack may not have concurrent hyperuricemia, but most will have hyperuricemia at some point during the course of their disease. If gout is suspected, a doctor may insert a needle into an inflamed joint, withdraw a sample of synovial fluid, and examine the sample for uric acid crystals.
Signs and symptoms of gout include:
• presence of uric acid crystals in joint fluid
• more than one attack of acute arthritis
• arthritis that develops in a day, producing a swollen, red, and warm joint
• attack of arthritis in only one joint, often the toe, ankle, or knee.
How is Gout Treated?
Gout can be treated with one or a combination of therapies to ease the pain of acute attacks, prevent future attacks, avoid the formation of tophi (nodules of uric acid crystals formed in the soft tissue) and kidney stones, and prevent disability due to gout. The most common treatments for an acute attack of gout are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids. NSAIDs reduce the inflammation caused by deposits of monosodium urate crystals, but have no effect on the amount of uric acid in the body.
When NSAIDs or corticosteroids fail to adequately control symptoms, your doctor may prescribe allopurinol or colchicine. Your doctor may recommend avoiding high-purine foods or limiting alcohol consumption. If you are overweight, you doctor may also recommend losing weight. Surgery to remove tophi may be recommended.
Cherry Consumption and Gout Attacks
A recent study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, reveals that consuming cherries or cherry extract may reduce the risk of gout attacks. Researchers at Boston University host an ongoing internet-based, case-crossover study established in February 2003 to investigate alleged triggers for recurrent gout attacks.