The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is particularly true when it comes to gout pain. A form of arthritis, gout may begin suddenly and result in severe pain, stiffness, and swelling of one or more joints.
While genetics can make a gout attack more or less likely (and no one can choose their genes), there are other gout triggers that you can and should control.
1. Eating High-Purine Foods
“High-purine foods can set off a gout attack, but they are not the underlying cause,” says expert.
“The wrong foods can be the ‘final straw’ that sets off a gout attack, but the patient needs to have been predisposed to the attack by having high blood uric acid with subsequent deposits of uric acid in the joints.” Examples of high-purine foods include red meat and shellfish.
2. Being Overweight or Obese
Being obese quadruples your likelihood of gout. “Obesity, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol are conditions commonly seen together and when present in the same patient are referred to as metabolic syndrome. Patients with these conditions frequently also have elevated uric acid in their blood,” says expert.
Sometimes diuretics prescribed to treat high blood pressure can cause the high levels of uric acid, but sometimes high levels are present just because of issues related to these health concerns. Weight loss can often help reduce uric acid levels and therefore gout risk, but the amount of pounds shed must be significant.
3. Drinking Soda
High fructose corn syrup is a culprit in raising uric acid levels and increasing gout risk. Several 12-ounce servings of regular soda have been shown to increase uric acid in both men and women, according to expert.
People at risk for gout should either switch to diet soda (which does not contain high fructose corn syrup) or limit regular soda to no more than one 12-ounce serving a day. It’s also worth noting that high fructose corn syrup can be found in many fruit drinks, store-bought baked goods, ice cream, candy, processed fast food, breakfast cereals, and other items, so read labels carefully to spare yourself gout pain.
4. Becoming Dehydrated
Becoming dehydrated can also be a gout risk factor. Experts do not know the exact reason, but believe it may have something to do with the concentration of uric acid crystals in the joint fluid.
Gout is also associated with uric acid-containing kidney stones, the risk for which is significantly increased when you’re dehydrated, says Fields. To prevent dehydration, drink six to eight 8-ounce servings of water a day (and more if you’re sweating significantly from exercise or in hot weather).
5. The Weather
Hot weather can definitely be a gout risk factor as sweating can cause extra fluid loss from the body, which may result in dehydration. It’s less clear if cold weather contributes to gout.
“In theory, uric acid is less soluble and therefore more likely to precipitate out in colder temperatures,” says expert. “This may be one of the reasons why the big toe is the most common spot for gout, since the temperature at the toe is lower than many areas of the body.”
However, gout is not more frequently reported in cooler climates. Also, the hands would tend to have a lower temperature as well, but are less likely to experience gout pain in early attacks.
6. Poorly Fitting Shoes
Another gout trigger can be wearing the wrong shoes. Any kind of damage or trauma to an area may cause a gout pain flare in susceptible people. Shoes that rub the toe can contribute to an attack so it’s best to make sure that the toe area of your shoes is wide enough to accommodate your feet without pinching or rubbing. This can be particularly useful if a gout attack does occur because it can be so painful that you might not be able to tolerate anything touching your toes.
7. Medical Treatments
Ironically some treatments designed to help people be healthier can contribute to the likelihood of gout pain. For instance, taking diuretics can decrease your kidneys’ ability to remove uric acid and lead to hyperuricemia, a risk factor for developing gout.
Chemotherapy’s breakdown and rapid turnover of cells can lead to increased production of uric acid. Surgery or a sudden severe illness that causes less blood flowing to the peripheral joints can be a risk factor for gout as can taking baby aspirin for the heart. Even uric acid-lowering medications themselves can increase the chance of gout in the short term.
Even if these treatments are risk factors, however, never stop any treatment or medication without consulting your doctor.
While there’s nothing we can do about our genetics, it is worth noting that this is a large risk factor for developing gout. In fact, one out of four people with gout pain have a family history of the condition. There are things you can do in terms of modifying your eating habits and general lifestyle, but gout is still an inherited disease and not your “fault.”