Busting the myths of gout

11 August 2020
Cieran sat on a mountain looking at the view, standing outside with his arms folded and holding a football award.
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When gout is mentioned, people often think it’s caused by overindulgence and something you get from drinking too much alcohol. It can be a bit of a joke, when it’s no laughing matter.

What causes gout?

Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the body. We all naturally have some level of urate in the body and it shouldn't cause any problems.

But if someone has too much uric acid or the body isn't good at getting rid of it, then it can form small, sharp crystals which can settle in the joints causing serious pain and swelling.

The food and drink we consume can increase the amount of uric acid in in our body.

Some foods can be worse for you than others, however you shouldn’t have to remove anything from your diet entirely.

Foods which you should try to avoid having large quantities of include:

  • red meat and offal – for example beef, kidney, liver
  • oily fish – fish roes, herring, mackerel, sardines
  • foods rich in yeast extracts – Marmite, Bovril, Vegemite.
  • Drinking too much alcohol, especially beers and spirits, may increase urate levels.

Gout is a serious condition

Despite the often light-hearted stereotype of gout being a condition which affected the aristocracy of the middle-ages due to their fine living, it should be taken seriously.

Gout affects more men than women. It can affect men of any age, but it rarely affects women before the menopause.

The two most common drugs which can be prescribed are allopurinol and febuxostat.

If you have any of the symptoms of gout, it's important you see a doctor. Read more about the symptoms and treatments for gout.

Cieran’s story

Ceiran, 26, was recently diagnosed with gout after experiencing symptoms for two years. He shares his experiences and debunks some common myths about the condition. Including:

  • only old men get gout
  • gout is caused by a bad diet and drinking alcohol
  • gout is incurable

“It’s hard to believe somebody so young can get it, and that one day you can be fine, while the next you’re in extreme pain.”

I was officially diagnosed with gout at the start of this year.

My symptoms had been affecting me for over two years, before I went to the doctor. It came on overnight and I think it was caused by an injury to my toe – which then triggered a flare up.

After a few days of the pain I “Googled” my symptoms as you do, and everything directed me to gout.

I was in denial, trying to convince myself it was just an injury, even though I knew it wasn’t, the pain was completely different to anything I’d experienced before.

“It’s not been easy, especially being in a health profession where having a condition like this isn’t really accepted.”

I was working in education and professional sport at the time and the flares massively affected the quality of my work and my mindset.

I began getting flare ups in my toe every five to six weeks. I’d wake up in so much pain. I’d often be late because it was a struggle to get ready (wearing shoes and socks was agony) and walking/driving to a lesson or training session took a bit of grit and self-talk.

Some people just didn’t believe that I’d woken up completely unable to do my job after seeing me the previous day with no issues. It got to a point where I’d have to lie to people about “spraining my ankle” to make it more believable.

Trust me, when you’re on your feet for 15 hours a day in a gym, running PE lessons or coaching people how to sprint, it isn’t fun.

It’s not been easy, especially being in a health profession where having a condition like this isn’t really accepted. Luckily, I can look back and laugh a little…until next time.

“I was slightly ashamed; I couldn’t justify having this at 26 years old”

I had to have an unrelated operation on my left ankle, and it was then that my surgeon told me that there was uric acid buildup of crystals around the joint, and I was tested for gout.

I was put on allopurinol and Colchicine. I didn’t tell anyone what it was for the first few weeks. I was slightly ashamed; I couldn’t justify having this at 26 years old.

When I did tell people, they’d often say things like ‘you’re too young for that’, ‘or what have you eaten?’ which didn’t help my mindset.

“Now I’ve started medication, things are improving massively.”

I’ve moved to Newcastle and I’m still working full time as a strength and conditioning coach with more confidence and movement in my foot.

Before I started treatment, my flare ups were virtually happening to the exact day every four weeks, I could often predict it.

I’ve had four months without a flare up and I'm able to run and indulge in good food and a few beers without the fear of a flare the following day.

This has made a huge difference to my lifestyle and has made me realise I should’ve got help sooner!

“I’m going to focus on getting back in shape and running more frequently.”

I’d eventually like to do a triathlon, only a little one! I’d raise some money for Versus Arthritis at the same time and that would be massive achievement.

My advice to others in a similar position to me would be:

  • Seek medical advice and start treatment as early as possible, don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.
  • The sooner you address the issues and get the right medication, the sooner you can live a normal, pain-free life again.
  • Be honest with the people around you, family, friends and employers. The more they understand what it is, how it affects you and what support you need the better the process will be!
  • Thanks to the medication I’m planning to get away sometime post lockdown and I'm confident my gout won’t hinder my travels too much.

Our research

We’ve funded several research projects to help develop better treatments for gout and improve patient care:

  • Can omega-3 fats help prevent side effects associated with initial treatment of gout?

The aim of this research is to find out whether taking omega-3 fatty acids could reduce the chances of people having acute attacks of gout when allopurinol is first started, which is when the risk of having an attack is greatest. Find out more about how this research will benefit gout patients.

  • How can nurse-led care and patient involvement improve the treatment of gout?

Gout is essentially the only ‘’curable’’ form of arthritis, because if you’re on the right dose of allopurinol your uric acid levels will be brought down enough to dissolve all the crystals in your joints.

Professor Michael Doherty led this research looking at individualised treatments and nurse-led care, he tells us why these studies are vital to develop better treatments.

Read more about our research achievements.

Professor Michael Doherty shows us how we can improve the treatment of gout.