As a former football player and wrestler who’d had three knee operations, Scott thought he knew pain. Then he had his first gout attack.
While the pain was new to him, Scott was familiar with gout because his dad had been living with it for 20 years. Gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis, develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood. The acid can form needle-like crystals in a joint and cause sudden, severe episodes of pain, , (tenderness and redness are not severe – focus on pain, warmth and swelling), warmth and swelling in the joints. For many people, including Scott, the first symptom of gout is excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe. Gout may also appear in another lower-body joint, such as the ankle or knee.
“Basically I described what happened, the doctor looked at my foot, told me I had gout and prescribed some pain medicine,” Scott says. “The pain medicine didn’t do much though. I stopped taking it after a few days and tried to manage around the pain.”
Fortunately, the worst of Scott’s pain subsided after the first three days, and would come and go. Once the pain was under control, Scott made a point to learn as much as he could about gout. He also learned that there are simple lifestyle changes that people with gout can make to lessen their chances of having a flare. Here are a few ways you can help manage your gout.
Go see a doctor.
Gout pain is not something you just have to deal with. There are medications and life changes you can try to manage your gout, but you need to do so under a doctor’s care.
“My advice for anyone with gout is to go to your doctor and talk about it,” Scott recommends. “Find a doctor who can offer good recommendations, because you can really save yourself a lot of pain and trouble.”
See if medication is right for you.
Common medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids such as prednisone can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Many people with gout also take colchicine, a medicine derived from a plant that has been used to treat gout for centuries. It helps to relieve the pain and swelling of acute attacks. You also might want to consider a medication such as allopurinol that lowers your uric acid levels.
“Since my diagnosis I’ve started taking a medicine that lowers my uric acid levels and that helps a lot,” Scott says.
Take a look at your diet.
Some foods and beverages, such as shellfish, alcohol, red meat, organ meats and sugary drinks, are high in purines which can raise the uric acid levels in your blood. Eliminating or moderating these items in your diet can help reduce the risk of a gout attack.
“I’ve eliminated certain foods and beverages, like shellfish and beer, and that makes a big difference,” Scott says. “There’s definitely been a learning curve—one doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory that contained shellfish and it immediately caused an attack, so I had to stop taking it. I also thought fake crab meat would be OK, and discovered the hard way that it’s not for me.”
Stay active and control your weight.
Losing weight can help reduce the uric acid in the blood, as well as lessen the risk of heart disease or stroke, both common in people who have gout. Staying active can help you manage your weight. Work with your health care team to determine the best activity for you.
“I do my best to manage gout on a day-to-day basis, and to struggle through it when I’m having an attack,” Scott says. “I’ve never lost any time from work because of gout. I do everything that I can to take care of myself.”