Gout is one of the 100-plus forms of arthritis. This disease was once called the disease of kings, because only the wealthy could afford the rich meats and spirits that seemed to accompany its development.
Like the other types of arthritis, gout causes inflammation in the joints, but the underlying cause differs from the two most common forms: osteoarthritis (wear-and-tear of joint cartilage) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune response).
Gout develops due to the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joint space. This causes painful inflammation that usually begins in the big toe.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, our team of board-certified foot and ankle specialists diagnoses and treats gout and other podiatric problems at our offices in and around Chicago, Illinois.
Because gout is the result of uric acid buildup and because most people don’t know how to control the levels in their bodies, our team would like to take this opportunity to explain how we can help you help yourself.
The development of gout
Your body creates uric acid when it breaks down purines that come from your diet. Normally, your kidneys filter the acid out of your blood and flush it from your system through urine.
But if you consume high levels of purines, if you don’t drink enough liquids to flush the uric acid out in urine, or if your kidneys can’t process a too-large amount of uric acid effectively, the waste builds up and crystalizes in the joint space.
Certain foods, drinks, and medications can elevate your body’s uric acid levels, leading to gout attacks. Some of these include:
- Red and organ meats
- Sugary drinks
- Fructose-high foods
- Low-dose aspirin
- Some diuretics (water pills)
- Immunosuppressants for organ transplants
Other risk factors include hypertension, diabetes, and/or chronic stress.
Gout can inflame any joint in your body, but for some unknown reason, about 50% of first-time attacks affect the big toe of either foot.
Once the crystals have established themselves in the joint, white blood cells from the immune system flood into the area, leading to inflamed tissues, severe pain, and chronic disease. If uric acid crystals deposit in the urinary tract, they lead to kidney stones.
Controlling the amount of uric acid in your body
There are a number of ways you can control the amount of uric acid in your body.
One of the most unexpected ways to reduce uric acid is through exercise. Regular exercise at regular intensity only exacerbates the pain-causing inflammatory process. But non-weight-bearing, low-intensity exercise is more comfortable, and it may also help reduce inflammation, decreasing the pain.
Aerobic exercises — including walking, cycling, and swimming — give the body’s cardiovascular system a workout, while at the same time helping to manage uric acid levels and body weight.
Swimming and water aerobics, which take advantage of the water’s buoyancy, provide the benefits of aerobic exercise while decreasing stress on painful joints.
Another way to control uric acid levels is through medication that dissolves crystals or prevents them from forming. Certain drugs block uric acid production; others help your kidneys remove uric acid or break down uric acid already in the bloodstream.
We tailor medication regimens to your specific needs and recommend dietary and lifestyle modifications to maximize treatment effectiveness.
There are also things you can do on your own to help:
- Avoid shellfish, red meat, and organ meats such as liver
- Avoid gravies
- Limit alcohol, particularly beer
- Avoid drinks high in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup
Vegetables that are high in purines, such as spinach and mushrooms, are safe to eat, and low-fat dairy foods (e.g., yogurt, cheese) may actually lower your uric acid levels
Are you at risk for gout or already struggle with it? Chicagoland Foot and Ankle can help you make the changes to lower your uric acid levels. To get started, book online or call us at any of our locations — the Mount Greenwood and Portage Park areas of Chicago, Orland Park, and New Lenox, Illinois.