Gout is a common inflammatory arthritis that occurs three times more frequently in men than women. While a gout attack is incredibly painful, early treatment often reduces the severity and frequency of future flare-ups.
Dr. Behnam Khaleghi and our team at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center in Orange and Laguna Hills, California, offer tips for managing gout. These strategies include preventive lifestyle changes and the steps you should immediately take at the first sign of a flare-up.
How gout develops
Gout occurs when crystals of uric acid accumulate in your joints. Uric acid is a waste product that’s created from the metabolism of biochemicals called purines. Purines, which are essential for building your DNA, come from two sources: Your body produces them, and they’re found in many foods and beverages.
Your body normally eliminates uric acid in your urine. Problems develop when your kidneys don’t remove enough uric acid from your blood, when your body produces too much, or you consume too many purines. Then you end up with high blood levels of uric acid.
When your blood is saturated with excessive uric acid, it starts to crystalize. These crystals then build up in your joints.
Gout most often affects the joint at the base of your big toe. However, it may also affect your foot, ankle, knee, and other joints throughout your body. In severe cases, the crystals may appear in soft tissues such as your tendons.
Gout attacks appear suddenly, causing the affected joint to become red, swollen, and extremely painful. The acute pain typically lasts up to 12 hours before it starts to feel better, but then your joint discomfort may persist for days or weeks.
While you can’t predict future flare-ups, you can make several lifestyle changes to prevent your risk for future painful attacks.
Four tips for managing gout
These tips will help you deal with your gout when it flares up.
1. Change your diet
Limiting your purine intake lowers your blood levels of uric acid and reduces the frequency of gout attacks. We can help you determine whether you need to restrict or eliminate specific high-purine products. Several examples of foods and beverages most patients need to limit include:
- Organ meats (liver, kidneys)
- Red meat
- Excessive alcohol
Uric acid is also a byproduct of fructose metabolism. As a result, you may need to limit products such as sweetened sodas that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
2. Lose weight
Carrying extra weight is associated with a higher risk of developing gout. Your kidneys can’t work as efficiently when you’re overweight, making it harder for them to eliminate uric acid. Being extremely overweight may increase your risk by tenfold or more. You’re also more likely to have your first gout attack earlier when you’re overweight compared to the first episode in people who maintain a healthy weight.
3. Minimize your stress
Emotional and physical stress may boost blood levels of uric acid and trigger a gout attack. Stress can also make your symptoms worse during a gout flare-up. Physical activity, mindfulness meditation, and listening to music are all ways to reduce stress.
4. Practice self-care during a gout attack
Gout flare-ups are known for striking in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping. As soon as the pain wakes you, it’s important to manage the attack by taking immediate steps to alleviate your inflammation and pain. You can:
- Take ibuprofen or naproxen
- Take prescription medications (if you have them)
- Take anti-inflammatory supplements
- Elevate your foot
- Rest the joint
- Sleep when possible
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Avoid stress
- Apply ice
When applying ice, wrap crushed ice or a bag of frozen peas in a clean cloth and gently place it on the area for 20 minutes. Repeat this treatment several times a day.
Getting prompt treatment after a gout attack may reduce the duration and severity of your symptoms. Call us at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center or schedule an appointment online.