Gout, a type of arthritis, can strike anyone. It was once called a rich man’s disease because of its association with overweight men who indulged in heavy foods and alcohol. That characterization is partly correct--gout is linked to certain types of foods and it occurs more often in men than women. After menopause, however, women are equally as prone to developing gout as are men.
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An attack of gout appears suddenly, notes the Mayo Clinic. It usually occurs in the joint at the base of the big toe, although it can occur in any joint. Gout is characterized by sudden, intense pain and the toe appears red, swollen and hot. Gout attacks frequently begin at night, awakening the sufferer. The toe is so tender that any touch, even the weight of a sheet, is unbearable.
A buildup of uric acid from the break down of purines causes gout, explains the Mayo Clinic. Purines are found naturally in the body and also come from foods, especially meats and alcohol. The uric acid from purines normally dissolves in the blood and is eliminated by the kidneys. Sometimes, too much uric acid accumulates, such as from overeating foods high in purines, or the kidneys fail to excrete enough uric acid. The excess uric acid collects into needle-like urate crystals. The urate crystals accumulate in joints, typically the big toe, causing pain and inflammation. Women produce lower levels of uric acid than men, states the Arthritis Foundation, and estrogen may help kidneys eliminate the uric acid that is present. During menopause, estrogen levels decline and uric acid levels begin increasing. Eventually, the uric acid levels become high enough in some women that urate crystals form, causing gout.
Other than menopause, the risk factors for developing gout in women are similar to those in men. Risk factors for women include a family history of gout, certain medical conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels or untreated hypertension, and drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day, notes the Mayo Clinic. Some medications, including low-dose aspirin regimens and thiazide diuretics for hypertension, also make women more susceptible to gout.
Gout treatment focuses on relieving the current attack and preventing future ones. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, reduce inflammation, and colchicine is effective for relieving gout pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Corticosteroids, either oral or injected into the joint, are also effective in reducing inflammation. Allopurinol helps reduce uric acid in women who produce too much, and probenecid helps increase the action of the kidneys in eliminating uric acid, states the Arthritis Foundation.
Gout prevention largely centers on lifestyle changes, although long-term medications may be prescribed. Avoid alcohol and foods with high levels of purines, advises the Arthritis Foundation. These foods include meats such as liver, turkey, venison, veal and bacon, and seafood such as scallops and haddock. Limit foods with moderate levels of purines such as asparagus, mushrooms, beef, shellfish, chicken and ham. Drink plenty of fluids, maintain a healthy weight and try to get protein from eating low-fat dairy products, recommends the Mayo Clinic.