The Hip New Disease of 21st Century America Is … Gout

Health experts say the ancient, painful affliction of kings is making a comeback in the U.S.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Gout is an ancient and common form of inflammatory arthritis that is caused by too much uric acid in the blood

It’s an ancient disease that reportedly afflicted Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and King Henry VIII. So why’s it on the rise in the U.S. today?

Researchers say that incidents of gout have nearly doubled over the past two decades and as of 2011 affected roughly 8.3 million Americans, or 4% of the U.S. population.

Gout┬áis a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by too much uric acid (hyperuricemia), a waste product of natural body processes. High levels of uric acid don’t necessarily cause gout, but when the kidney can’t get rid of it properly, it builds up in the blood and can form hard crystals in the joints. The most common symptoms of gout usually include swelling, tenderness, redness and intense pain in the big toe; the feet, ankles and knees are also subject to gout attacks.

(MORE: How Two Key Lifestyle Changes Can Help Boost Your Health Overall)

Although doctors believe a number of factors contribute to gout, it has been referred to as “the king’s disease” for its long-held (although most likely incorrect) association with overindulgence in food and alcohol. Even so, obesity, a diet rich in meat and seafood, frequent intake of beer and spirits, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure are all risk factors, say health experts.

Richard J. Johnson, head of the division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado at Denver, argues that some people develop high levels of uric acid even before becoming obese or diabetic. “It is likely that there are other reasons uric acid is increasing in our population. Our studies suggest that this is driven in part by the intake of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup,” he told the Atlantic.

The best ways to treat and prevent gout, according to experts:

  • control your diet
  • drink less alcohol, especially beer
  • exercise
  • drink plenty of water and fluids
  • limit your intake of foods with high levels of purine or protein, such as liver, organ meats, game, sardines, mussels, anchovies and herring.

MORE: How to Create Your Own Healthy-Eating Plan with Pinterest