A form of arthritis, gout affects some 8.3 million people, or 4%, of the U.S. population, according to a 2011 study. That percentage represents an increase over the past two decades, which begs the question: why are incidences of gout increasing? While diet appears to be the primary factor, other circumstances — chiefly, genetics — may be a significant influence as well.
During a gout attack, joints suddenly swell, become painful, and feel warm. Although gout mainly strikes toes, ankles, and knees, gout can cause those same symptoms in wrists and fingers as well. Men have higher rates of gout than women.
If you suffer from pain and swelling in your wrists and fingers, it could be due to several medical conditions. Could gout be one of them? Understanding the factors that contribute to gout can help you find out.
What is Gout?
Gout occurs when the body fails to filter out uric acid through the kidneys. Uric acid is normally secreted by the body during the metabolic process. But when it accumulates, uric acid turns into crystals that attach and inflame soft tissues and joints. Repeated gout attacks may damage joints, and in some instances, nodules, known as tophi, spring up around the joints. That is why gout is considered a form of arthritis.
A diet high in what are called purines ranks as a leading cause of gout. These foods and beverages tend to produce an excess of uric acid when eaten, which, in turn, overloads the kidneys. Red meats, pork, and shellfish fall into the purine category of foods, as do organ meats like liver and kidneys. Sugary drinks and alcohol are also high in purines.
Certain types of oily fish, including sardines and anchovies, contain high levels of purines. On the other hand, flaky, white fish such as cod, tilapia, and flounder do not.
Although diet plays a role in gout, genetics are a contributing factor, too. Gout tends to run in families, and a recent study concluded genetics far outweighed diet in people who had the condition. In an analysis of 16,000 U.S. residents, genetics accounted for 24% of variations noted in uric acid levels, compared to less than 0.5% based on dietary factors.
In addition to genetics and diet, diabetes, kidney disease, dehydration, and certain medications including diuretics and chemotherapy drugs may cause gout. Though gout attacks are painful, there are treatments to combat the condition.
How Gout is Treated
A gout attack typically subsides after a few days. Anti-inflammatory medications, along with rest and putting a splint on the joint, help in lessening the symptoms and shortening the duration of the attack. Your doctor may prescribe a drug, colchicine, to counteract the gout.
If you’ve had several gout attacks in a year, you may be prescribed a drug to reduce the level of uric acid in the blood, which prevents flare-ups. Medications such as allopurinol, probenacid, and febuxostat are among those medications.
Of course, it’s also a good idea to eat fewer purine-laden foods. Better choices would be complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, in addition to low-fat milk and yogurt. Be sure to drink plenty of water to push the uric acid out through the kidneys.
Florida Hand Center is Here to Help
If you’re struggling with painful, swollen hands and fingers, the specialists at Florida Hand are here to diagnose your condition and find a treatment plan that works for you. Don’t spend one more day in discomfort. Our compassionate, expert care will give you the quality of life you deserve. Contact us today for an appointment.