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What is gout?

Gout is a condition that is brought on by an excessive amount of uric acid, an end product of purines, in the body.

Excess uric acid in the blood, called hyperurecemia, can occur when the body either over-produces uric acid, fails to elimate it properly, or a combination of the two.

Needle-shaped uric acid crystals form in the connective tissue of the joints. As white blood cells rupture when attempting to ingest the crystals, other white blood cells accumulate, resulting in inflammation and excrutiating pain.

Attacks of gout can occur with little or no notice, usually in joints of the outer extremities, such as the large toe. This is probably due to the lower body temperature found in these areas.

Attacks can be brought on by many causes: surgery, some diuretic medications, dehydration, alcohol consumption, extreme changes in diet, use of aspirin (a salicylate), renal insufficiency, trauma, and a diet of foods high in purines.

Millions of people in the United States suffer from gout, and the numbers are growing. More than 70 per cent are men over 40. Gout does not usually occur in women until after menopause.

Treatments include symptom-relieving medicines such as anti-inflammatories and colchicine, preventive medicines such as allopurinol, elimination of alcohol, and a diet of foods lower in purines.

Interestingly, gout is said to be the only rheumatic disease known to be helped when certain foods are avoided.