Gout: this is one crystal buildup you don’t want

It’s an arthritic disease, often brought on by bad diet, and it really, really hurts!

Myrna Driedger, MLA Winnipeg Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

What did King Henry VIII, Benjamin Franklin and Sir Isaac Newton have in common? The answer is gout. While growing up, I had heard the term gout and thought it was a peculiar word and something that certain older people got inflicted with. It was considered the disease of the upper crust, or rich man’s disease. When I became a nurse I learned more about it. Gout is a form of arthritis and men are more prone to it than women.

Currently gout in younger people is on the rise, and anybody can get it. Some professional athletes in good shape have suffered with gout.

Gout is an extremely painful form of arthritis and often an attack happens in the joint of the big toe. It often occurs in one’s sleep and the weight of a sheet can be agonizing.

Besides the big toe, gout can occur in the wrists, fingers, knees, elbows, even the outer ears.

The joint can be swollen, red, stiff and hot to the touch. This is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals, produced in the body by the breaking down of substances called purines. Purines are contained in all your body tissues. Purines are also found in foods such as red meat, asparagus, mushrooms and seafood. Alcoholic beverages, especially beer, can increase the level of uric acid in your body and make you more susceptible to a gout attack.

Normally uric acid is dissolved in the blood and excreted through the urine. If there is an excess of uric acid, the kidneys cannot process it to eliminate it. If one eats an abundance of foods high in purines, the uric acid levels in the blood become too high and can lead to the creation of sharp crystals, which then cause the inflamed, burning pain in the joint, often leading to gout.

As with other diseases, diet and obesity can increase one’s risk of gout. Some medical conditions also increase the risk, notably untreated high blood pressure, diabetes, heart and kidney diseases, as well as a family history of gout and organ transplants.

One may have a bout of gout once and never again. However untreated, repeated attacks can have serious consequences. The uric acid crystals build up in the joint and can cause bumps under the skin. In extreme cases, over time these bumps could eventually blister and the joints disintegrate; a person has no option left but to have the toe surgically removed. Crystals collecting in the urinary tract can cause kidney stones, another extremely excruciatingly painful experience.

The good news is that gout is a treatable disease if one takes the proper medication, avoids foods high in purines, limits alcohol consumption especially beer, and drinks plenty of water.

Myrna Driedger, a trained nurse, is Speaker of the Manitoba legislative assembly.

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