Gout: Bane of the Ages
You may not die from an acute gout attack, but the pain can be so intense that any relief from it would be welcome, say two Albuquerque, N.M., rheumatologists.
"These are red-hot swollen joints. An acute attack of gout is extremely painful," says Mark Cohen, a physician who heads the rheumatology department at Lovelace Sandia in Albequerque, N.M. "The change in air pressure from opening and closing the door can make it worse."
People have suffered with gout, a form of arthritis, for thousands of years. Even mummies from the tombs of Egypt show signs of the deforming disease, Cohen says.
Gout is caused by uric acid crystals that are deposited in the joints. It usually affects one joint at a time and usually begins with the ball joint of the big toe, according to information from the Arthritis Foundation.
Everyone makes uric acid, a by-product of metabolism. It is usually eliminated through the kidneys. But some people, especially men 40 to 90 years old, either make more uric acid or have difficulty eliminating it. High concentrations in the body can lead to crystal formation and the resulting gout attacks. Untreated, the uric acid crystals can occur in other joints and organs and cause permanent damage, according to arthritis.org.
However, people can have high levels of uric acid, a condition called hyperuricemia, and never have a gout attack or form a certain kind of kidney stone, a related condition of too much uric acid, Cohen says. "Or some have one attack of gout and never have a second," he says.
Wilmer Sibbitt, a rheumatologist at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, explains that more men than women get gout, because men usually have greater muscle mass and a higher metabolic rate than women.