Lately, my dad has been telling me about how common gout is among his friends. He has been very curious about what gout is and what causes it. I thought it would be a great topic to blog about since it is a common condition that affects”an estimated 3.0 million [American] adults …. in 2005, and 6.1 million adults have ever had gout” (Source: CDC).
(Image from arthritishubs.com.)
Gout is, essentially, a type of arthritis that is characterized by severe pain, swelling, and redness that is usually pinpointed in the joints (the big toe is a common location). Arthritis comes from the Greek word arthron, meaning “joint”, and itis comes from the Latin term for ”inflammation”.
Someone with gout has an too much uric acid in the blood. Too much uric acid in the blood can eventually lead to the inflammation of a joint (explained below), thus causing gout.
What is uric acid?
To understand this, we must acquaint ourselves with another chemical: purine.
If you have consumed any of these foods or drinks—liver, shellfish, anchovies, mackerel, organ meats (e.g. kidney, heart, liver, brain), dried beans and peas, beer, and wine—then you have consumed purine.
(Image from buzzle.com.)
When the body has taken in enough purines needed to function, it would normally get rid of the purines by breaking them down into uric acid. Uric acid then leaves the body through urine.
If not enough uric acid escapes the body, then too much uric acid in the blood can produce a mass crystalized substance called a “tophus”, which can deposit in the joints, kidneys, and underneath the skin. When the body’s immune system detects the tophus, immune system cells begin to attack the mass, thus leading to inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s “military”, so to speak, against “foreign invaders” (i.e. bacteria, viruses); it sends soldiers like white blood cells and other chemicals to destroy the foreign cell.
Risk factors of gout…
…include genetics, being a man, being a woman (after menopause), drinking alcohol. The exact cause of gout is undetermined, though consuming too many purine rich foods is thought to be a contributing factor. Drinking alcohol in excess also alters the body’s ability to dump out unneeded uric acid!
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