Gout is a form of arthritis characterised by a painful inflammation of a joint or joints in the body and it is caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in these joints.
Gout is generally more common in men than women, and often several men of the one family can be affected by the disease.
Unlike other forms of arthritis which usually develop slowly, an attack of gout happens suddenly, often overnight. While the big toe is the joint most commonly affected, the hands, wrists, knees, ankles, elbows or any other joint can be affected with the condition often being very painful – so much so that for some people, even the weight of a bed sheet can cause severe pain.
Apart from the fact that the disease is more common in men and not that common in women before the onset of menopause, there are some other risk factors making people more susceptible to gout.
These include people who are taking diuretics, those who are overweight or those who have kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or abnormal levels of fat and cholesterol.
Some foods also increase the chances of getting gout. These include foods containing the chemicals from which uric acid is created such as meats (especially beef, pork, lamb, liver); seafood (especially anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines, fish roe, mussels and scallops); vegetables (such as asparagus, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils and spinach); or foods or supplements that contain yeast extract (such as beer and Vegemite).
Alcohol, especially beer or spirits, and sugar-sweetened soft drinks and drinks with high levels of fructose also increase the risk.
Gout can also affect people with certain types of blood disorders (such as the blood cancers leukaemia and lymphoma) and people being treated for cancer.
The good news is, however, that with prompt treatment the pain and inflammation can be relieved and an attack usually subsides after a couple of weeks of treatment. It is also important to seek treatment as untreated gout can have long-term consequences.
Medicines used to treat gout can be purchased in your community pharmacy and your pharmacist can discuss with you which is the most appropriate for your particular case.
Your pharmacist can also help with lifestyle changes to help manage the condition long term and if you suffer from gout you will benefit from making healthy changes to your lifestyle.
Your community pharmacist can help in weight management, smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy diet which are all positive factors in combating gout. Your pharmacist can also help to identify when you will need to see a doctor to help manage your condition.