Gout was once euphemistically called The Disease of Kings because it was thought to be triggered by a diet of super-rich foods and massive amounts of alcohol. It was also believed that only men suffered with the condition. But now new research shows guys arent the only ones to get gout. Women get gout, too, especially after menopause. In fact, by about age sixty, the number of cases in women and men are about equal. After age eighty, more women than men have gout.
As we go through menopause (the average age is fifty-one) our bodies reduce its production of the hormone, estrogen. This hormone also helps the kidneys excrete uric acid. As a result, with the reduced estrogen production after menopause, a womans uric acid level begins to increase. Gout, a kind of arthritis, occurs when levels of uric acid in the blood become too high, and uric acid crystallizes around the joints, leading to inflammation, swelling and pain. It usually takes several years for the uric acid level to reach the point where crystals can form.
The number of gout cases has doubled in the last twenty years. To find out whether or not your body is producing too much uric acid, your doctor will need to diagnose it. Medication is available to help control how much uric acid your body produces. You can also limit it by avoiding foods that increase the uric acid. These foods include alcohol, bacon, haddock, liver, scallops, turkey, veal and venison. Other culprits are asparagus, beef, chicken, ham, mushrooms and shellfish.
A new study also suggests that drinking orange juice, soda and other beverages high in the sugar fructose could increase the incidence of women developing gout. The study followed 78,906 women for 22 years, as part of the landmark Nurses' Health Study. At the beginning of the study, none of the women had gout. By the end, 778 had developed it. Women who drank one serving of soda per day were 1.74 times more likely to develop gout than those who drank less than one serving per month. Those who drank two or more servings per day were 2.4 times more likely to develop gout.Drinking two or more servings of soda per day caused an additional 68 cases of gout per 100,000 women per year, compared with drinking less than one serving of soda per month, the researchers found. Drinking orange juice also increased the risk. Women who drank one serving of orange juice per day were 1.41 times more likely to develop gout, and those who drank two or more servings were 2.4 times more likely to report gout.By the time you experience an attack of gout the uric acid has already built up. If you have these symptoms, let your doctor know:Warmth, pain, swelling, and extreme tenderness in a joint, usually a big toe.Pain during the night that is so intense that even light pressure from a sheet is intolerable.Rapid increase in discomfort, lasting for some hours of the night and then easing during the next few days.As the gout attack subsides, the skin around the affected joint may peel and feel itchy; the skin might be red or purplish and appear infected.FeverLimited movement in the affected joint.Even if your symptoms go away, tell your doctor. Many people experience recurrent attacks, which can lead to permanent damage of the kidneys and joints.Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates.See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.