By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Gout describes a type of arthritis that is characterized by the formation of sodium urate crystals in and around joints. This is caused by a raised uric acid level in the blood. Uric acid is a breakdown of product of purines and patients with gout are advised to avoid purine-rich foods such as dried beans and peas, liver, kidney, heart, red meat, shellfish and oily fish.
Uric acid is usually excreted by the kidneys. However, if uric acid is produced in excess or if the excretion process is compromised, it can accumulate to an abnormal level in the blood. Over several years, hard and needle-shaped sodium urate crystals then form.
Several factors increase the likelihood of the blood uric acid level rising and gout developing. These include:
- Family history - Gout often runs in families and there may be a genetic predisposition to developing hyperuricemia and gout.
- Male gender - Gout is more common among men than among women.
- Older age - Gout rarely occurs in children and is more common among middle-aged adults and the elderly.
- Overweight - Overweight and obesity increase the risk of gout.
- Purine rich foods - Eating foods that are rich in purines can lead to hyperuricemia and trigger gout.
- Alcohol - A high alcohol intake can increase the risk of hyperuricemia, since alcohol can interfere with uric acid excretion from the body.
- Other medical disorders such as kidney dysfunction, which disrupts the elimination of uric acid and other waste products, can also cause gout. Other conditions that can cause gout include high blood pressure, underactive thyroid gland, haemolytic anemia, psoriasis and some cancers.
- Some medications may also raise the risk of developing gout. Examples include diuretics (e.g furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide and metolazone), aspirin, niacin, cyclosporine and levodopa.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 24, 2014