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Who is affected by gout?

William J. Martin, MD
Rheumatology
About 15% of the population gets gout, and it’s more common in men than women. Premenopausal women are less likely to get gout, and it is uncommon for children to develop gout because they are better at clearing uric acid from their kidneys. It’s very clear that a higher level of uric acid leads to an increased risk of gout. Some medical conditions that cause extensive cell breakdown can lead to a higher uric acid level and, ultimately, gout. For example, lymphoma and other kinds of blood disorders cause cells to break down, subsequently increasing uric acid levels. Any kidney dysfunction that affects how well your kidneys clear uric acid can lead to gout as well.

Gout may not impress those who have never experienced it. A type of arthritis afflicting more men than women, the most common symptom of gout is pain in the big toe. Those who have stubbed a toe and hopped around the room for a few minutes yelling may scoff at this, right? However, the pain of gout is so intense and severe that it may cripple the sufferer; even the slightest touch on the tender spot may propel him or her to scream in anguish. And though the big toe is the most common location for gout-related pain, the unbearable throbbing may spread to the ankles, wrists and elbows, and other joints.

The ancient Greeks used to treat gout attacks with a drug from the crocus lily bulb called colchicine. Not only did they suffer the pain associated with gout, but they then endured a battle of severe diarrhea in consequence to the cure.

If you've ever had an attack of the gout, you're in the company of admirable men. Benjamin Franklin, Alexander the Great, and Charlemagne, as well as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton all suffered from it gout. Perhaps the most famous sufferer of all was Henry VIII of England, who in addition to having a voracious desire for wives was also quite the glutton. Every evening, he'd indulge in a side of venison accompanied by multiple glasses of wine. This regular diet of meat and alcohol, particularly organ meats like livers and kidneys, may aggravate the condition of gout. It is for this reason that gout has long been regarded as "the disease of kings," because historically, it was kings who could pay for the expense of such a decadent diet.

Now, however, many more people can eat a fatty Western diet, and gout affects now affects approximately 3 million Americans.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.