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8 Common Myths about Gout

Marie Antoinette, the former queen of France, is famously known for supposedly declaring, “Let them eat cake!” when confronted with the realities of her starving community. And in that one sentence, we can see why gout—a type of arthritis characterized by an excess of uric acid in the blood, forming painful crystals in the joints—was commonly known as the “arthritis of the rich.” Historically, the wealthy were particularly prone to gout because they regularly over-indulged in both alcohol and rich foods. Of course, we can also thank Marie and her rich companions; without them and their overindulgence stretching back for centuries, we wouldn’t have learned how to treat the condition nor gotten to know it so well.

Sadly, medical treatment of gout is often hampered by an abundance of false information about the condition. This article addresses common myths about gout that can get in the way of proper care and prevention.

Myth #1: Cherry Juice Helps with Gout Flares

Traditional home remedies for gout include drinking tart cherry juice. There’s just one problem: the juice, which is touted as a way to reduce levels of uric acid in the body, doesn’t actually work. When researchers attempted to find a proper dosage of cherry juice for potential treatment, they discovered that regardless of the amount someone drank, uric acid levels remained unchanged.

Myth #2: Home Remedies Will Prevent Another Attack

There is absolutely no substitute for modern medicine, no matter how well you think a home remedy might work. Gout can be treated through steroids and anti-inflammatories, but there’s no cure for the condition. Another attack is always possible. You can lessen the possibility of a gouty attack with some lifestyle changes, and you can ease the pain when an attack is already in progress with ice and rest, but there’s no way to completely stop it from occurring again.

Myth #3: Gout Only Affects the Big Toe

It would be nice to have such a targeted area to deal with, but gout can affect several other joints. The base of the big toe just happens to be the most common. The knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists are also susceptible to urate crystal formation, as is nearly every other joint in your body.

Myth #4: Changing My Diet Can Cure My Gout

It’s true that eating a healthier diet low in purine can help make gout occurrences less frequent, but it won’t cure it—simply because there’s no cure. You can try to lower the uric acid production rate in your body through diet, though, by avoiding certain trigger foods:

  • Red meat
  • Shellfish
  • Alcohol
  • High-fructose corn syrup

Myth #5: Icing Your Gout Will Only Form More Crystals

Uric acid crystallizes in your joints when your body stops excreting it or dissolving it into the bloodstream—not when your body gets cold. In fact, icing your gout will help you feel better. Icing joints decreases swelling, which then decreases pain and makes it easier to move around. One of the first things you should do for gout is to pull out the ice pack.

Myth #6: Only People who are Obese Get Gout

Obesity puts people at a higher risk of developing gout, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who get it. Anyone can—regardless of weight—because of various genetic and environmental factors. People with diabetes and kidney disease are more susceptible, as are people who have relatives with gout. Outside factors can influence gout as well:

  • Cancer treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy can increase uric acid.
  • Dehydration. Without enough water, uric acid can spike in the body.
  • Medication. Diuretics and some other medications increase risk.

Myth #7: I Won’t Get a Gout Attack if I Stop Drinking Alcohol

Saying no to alcohol is great for your body overall, and it’s a good preventative measure for gout. The more alcohol you drink, the more opportunity uric acid gets to linger in your bloodstream. And sure, if you stop drinking it, you’ll probably lower your chances of having an attack. But abstaining won’t cure the condition or stop another attack from ever occurring again.

Myth #8: Gout isn’t Treatable

Not only are we able to treat gout, but we’ve also been treating gout for centuries. There’s no cure, but gout can be both prevented and treated.

Prevention

Most bouts with gout are preventable with simple lifestyle and medication changes. You can prevent attacks by:

  • Shedding extra pounds
  • Skipping alcoholic drinks
  • Avoiding red meat, shellfish, and other foods high in purine
  • Drinking more water
  • Discussing with your doctor medication that lowers uric acid levels, like allopurinol or febuxostat

Treatment

Gout has been treatable since it was discovered in ancient Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. Healers then used dried crocus flower seeds to create an anti-inflammatory called colchicine—and doctors still use it for treating gout today. But we can also take advantage of more modern medical advances, like corticosteroid injections and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like naproxen or ibuprofen. Just don’t use aspirin; it can stop the body from shedding uric acid.

Gout is unfortunately one of the most painful types of arthritis out there. Luckily, we’ve known about it—and been able to treat it—for centuries. Don’t rely on home remedies or hearsay to try and stop it yourself. Talk to your doctor or arthritis relief specialist to come up with a targeted plan of action instead.

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X-ray of an arthritic hip joint