There are more than 100 forms of arthritis. Together, they affect more than 54 million people in the United States. While some forms of the disease are more common than others, each affects people in different ways. For men, one of the more common forms can be an excruciatingly painful type called gout. Affecting more than 9 million Americans, a gout flare can cause intense pain and immobility. And thanks to hormones, men are four times as likely to live with gout than women.
In layman’s terms, gout is caused by elevated levels of uric acid (hyperuricemia). In the average person, uric acid is eliminated through urine and sweat. But in people living with gout, the uric acid levels are too high for the body to eliminate fully. The uric acid builds up and forms crystallized shards that migrate to the lower joints, most commonly the big toe. These crystallized shards are like small pieces of glass that tear tissue and cause intense pain. Often, the searing pain of a gout attack can leave patients bed-ridden and unable to walk for several days.
Despite its prevalence in men and its telltale symptoms, many people suffering from gout go undiagnosed. Doctors and patients often attribute the pain to a break or sprain. Others tough out the pain at home, choosing not to seek out medical care at all. But left untreated, gout can cause irreversible damage to the joints it affects. For Jim Klososky, he was lucky enough to be diagnosed early, making it less likely he’ll have permanent joint damage.
“I woke up in extreme pain,” says Jim, as he recalls his first gout attack nearly 30 years ago. “I thought I had broken my toe but couldn’t think of any way that had happened. I was in my 20s and a bartender, so I did drink quite a bit. I thought perhaps I just hadn’t remembered. The pain and swelling reminded me of a previous break, so I just assumed it had happened again.”
Jim had not forgotten some incident from the night before. In fact, tests and X-rays showed no signs of a break. When Jim mentioned his diet was high in fatty foods, and he consumed alcohol on a regular basis, his doctor suspected his pain was caused by gout. Diet, alcohol consumption and genetics all play a role in the development of the disease.
“It didn’t take long for my doctor to put the pieces together and realize that I was suffering from a gout flare,” says Jim. “I know many others don’t get a diagnosis on their first attack. Either they put off a visit to their doctor, or they’re misdiagnosed. Thankfully, my physician was experienced with the disease. He prescribed daily medications as well as an emergency prescription that could help get my flare under control. The meds worked great. I felt better in a couple of days and was able to carry on as usual.”
As Jim matured, so did his outlook on diet and alcohol. To keep his gout flares in check, he eventually limited alcohol and fatty foods, both of which are triggers for a flare. For years, Jim managed his gout without daily medications, relying solely on a healthy diet to counteract his disease. But as Jim reached his 50s, diet alone could no longer prevent the attacks. As he began to experience more frequent flares, he decided to return to his doctor for guidance.
“Not much has changed in the world of gout medication in the 30 years I’ve lived with this disease,” says Jim. “But I’ve changed. I realize now that taking a daily medication is an important part of staying healthy. I can’t just rely on the right foods and the elimination of alcohol to keep my flares at bay anymore. With medication, I’m able to control my gout and prevent serious attacks that land me in bed and out of commission for days.”
Knowing when and how to ask for help is an important part of staying healthy. For Jim, he often thought he could handle the pain on his own. Daily medications seemed unnecessary in his youth, when flares only came every few years. And when they did happen, he assumed that if he just toughed it out for a day or two, he’d be fine. But now, Jim realizes that his attitude cost him countless days with loved ones and could have led to irreversible damage to his joints.
“Men don’t need to be so stubborn and assume that the pain will just pass if they wait it out,” says Jim. “My biggest piece of advice is that if you’re in pain, go see a doctor. There’s no point in suffering through when there are medications that can help. Pain takes you away from the things and people you love. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to take every moment I can to enjoy my life.”
If you suspect you have gout or have been diagnosed, learn more about the disease by watching the Living Well With Gout webinar. In this webinar, led by renowned experts and moderated by Jim Klososky, you’ll hear more about Jim’s personal journey, as well as get answers on how to best prevent and treat the disease.
Share Your Gout Experience
Your voice matters. This Men’s Health Month, tell us how living with gout or any form of arthritis has impacted your life, your mental health and your relationships. Take the INSIGHTS survey to shape programs and services from the Arthritis Foundation that help conquer pain caused by arthritis. – Heidi Bragg