Gout is one of the oldest recognized diseases. Once known as the "disease of kings," we now know that gout can affect anyone, not just those accustomed to "rich living." In fact, more than 2 million Americans suffer from this painful condition.

Gout occurs when too much uric acid, a waste product from the process of digestion, builds up in the blood system. Over time, needle-like crystals of uric acid form in connective tissue near or within joints, the big toe the most prominent joint affected. This results in inflammation and extreme pain that can come on suddenly, often overnight. The skin around the joint may also become red and shiny.

While heredity can be a factor in the development of the disease (one in four gout sufferers have a family history of the disease), lifestyle issues are the most prominent. Obesity and overuse of alcohol figure largely in the occurrence of the disease. Other medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or arteriosclerosis can make a person more susceptible to developing gout. Men develop gout more often than women and at earlier ages.

Common Treatments:

To treat the pain and inflammation caused by gout, physicians often prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or the prescription drug indomethacin. For more extreme pain, they may step up to a steroidal drug such as prednisone.

Perhaps, though, the most important treatment strategy for gout comes after the attack has been brought under control. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss not only reduce the buildup of uric acid but also lighten the load on affected joints. Physicians usually recommend patients cut back on their intake of animal protein and alcoholic beverages. Drugs such as allopurinol may also help reduce the level of uric acid in the blood.
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