What causes gout?

Causes of gout – from genetics to medication

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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An introduction to the causes of gout

Gout is an arthritic or rheumatic condition which results in severe pain in one or more joint. The most commonly affected joints are the small joints such as in our feet and hands, and its onset is more likely in males.

Gout occurs because uric acid levels in the bloodstream are too high. If the body is unable to efficiently excrete this substance, it starts to collect in and around our joints, and turns into crystals, resulting in pain, swelling, stiffness and changes to the skin.

What is uric acid?

Uric acid is a waste product that our bodies produce every day as we break down purines. It is normally excreted by our kidneys, but if we have too much of the substance, or if our kidneys struggle to do that job, uric acid can build up in or around our joints.

As it does so, uric acid can form hard needle-like crystals which build up over the years. Initially, we don’t notice this happening, but when the crystals start to spill over into the soft lining of the joint, or cause damage to the joint, the characteristic symptoms of joint pain, stiffness and swelling occur.

What causes high uric acid levels?

There are several known causes of high levels of uric acid, or factors which increase your chances of developing the condition:

  • Our genes – gout does seem to run in families, so if you have a close family member who suffers from the problem, your chances of developing gout increases. In fact, one in five people who develop gout, also have a close family member who suffers from the condition
  • Sex– males develop gout more readily than females. This is likely to be the result of men experiencing a rise in uric levels during puberty. Women experience a similar rise during the menopause as levels of the hormone oestrogen decrease. If women develop the condition, it tends to be much later in life
  • Age - Typically, the condition begins or worsens with age. It is most common among men over the age of 30, and women over the age of 60
  • Medication – certain types of medicines, in particular those used to treat high blood pressure or high cholesterol may cause an abnormal build-up of uric acid in the blood
  • Diet – how you treat your digestive system has a big influence on how your body functions. A diet high in purines, found in kidneys, seafood and red meat is likely to trigger the symptoms of gout. Additionally, alcohol is renowned for raising uric acid levels as it increases production in the liver and reduces the level removed through urine
  • Weight – if you are overweight, you may be more prone to developing gout. This is because your body produces more uric acid, often more than it is able to excrete. While obesity is not likely to be the primary factor, it is likely to significantly increase your chances of developing the condition if other factors also apply.

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Did you know?

While many foods can trigger gout, according to several studies foods rich in vitamin C (like oranges) could be the answer to reducing it. One such study found that the higher the intake of vitamin C, the more protection from gout.

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