Gout is a common condition that causes sudden flare-ups of painful arthritis in your joints, usually the big toe. The condition affects around 2 in 100 people in the UK and is more common in men than women, particularly as they get older.
Because gout pain is often triggered by a diet of rich foods, it’s common for flare-ups to get worse over the Christmas period.
‘Gout is a more common condition at this time of year, usually causing a joint to become hot, red, painful and swollen,’ says Dr McClymont. ‘Fortunately, there are lots of small changes and dietary habits you can make to reduce the risk of gout flare-ups and control symptoms without the need for medication,’ she explains.
Where does gout pain occur?
Gout symptoms can develop in almost any joint. Although usually only one joint is affected at a time, in some cases people experience multiple joint flares. It usually affects joints towards the ends of the limbs, including:
- Toes (usually the big toe)
- Midfoot (where your shoelaces are)
If you do not get proper gout treatment, it's likely to affect more of your joints over time.
What causes gout?
Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid in your blood and muscles. Uric acid is created by your body to break down purines (found in lots of rich foods like game meat and red wine) – and normally your kidneys will remove any uric acid from the food you eat. Having a high level of uric acid can cause harmful crystals to form in your joints and kidneys, which can lead to gout symptoms.
Family history can play a part in your risk of gout too. Research shows that gout can run in the family, with 1 in 5 people diagnosed having a close family member with the condition.
Is there a recommended diet for gout?
‘Eating a healthy and balanced diet has lots of benefits, but the most important part of a preventative gout diet is reducing the levels of purine,’ Dr McClymont says. ‘This will help prevent sudden attacks of gout and reduce your risk of having repeated flare-ups,’ she continues. ‘While it might be difficult to cut these foods out altogether, it’s worth being aware of the trigger foods that cause gout. Moderation, especially this time of year, is key.’
Foods that can cause gout symptoms
- Foods high in refined sugar like biscuits and cakes
- Seafood like prawns, lobster, mussels and clams
- Fizzy drinks and fruit juices
- Alcohol (especially beer, ale, fortified or red wine and port)
- Liver, kidney, heart and other offal
- Game meat (rabbit, venison, pheasant, veal and duck)
Low-purine foods that are kinder to gout
You don’t need to limit all tasty foods. The following foods make up a healthy gout diet.
- Milk, yoghurts and cheese
- Dairy-free alternatives including soya
- Fruits and vegetables
- Breads and cereals
- Pasta, rice and noodles
Advice for drinking when you have gout
It can be hard for some of us to avoid it altogether over the festive period. Here are 5 tips from Dr McClymont on how to strike a balance, so you can enjoy yourself without making gout symptoms worse.
Avoid red wine and beer as these have a high purine content – white wine and spirits are better alternatives for a festive drink
Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water (at least 8 cups a day)
Factor in a few alcohol free days each week – for example the days between Christmas and New Year
Keep below the recommended units of alcohol per week (14 units a week)
Stay clear of soft drinks high in fructose, like fizzy drinks and fruit juices, or choose the less sugary options
What can I do to relieve gout pain?
‘The main symptom of gout is a sudden and severe pain in a joint. The skin over the affected joint will often be swollen, hot and red. An attack of gout usually lasts up to a week then should start to ease,’ Dr McClymont explains.
Gout usually will not cause lasting damage to your joints if it’s treated immediately. If you think you’re experiencing an attack of gout symptoms:
- Take pain relief, and any medicine you've been prescribed by your doctor to treat an attack of gout
- Keep the affected limb rested and raised
- Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated
- Cool down the joint with an ice pack or bag of frozen peas
Do I need to see a doctor for gout?
We always recommend speaking to a GP as soon as possible if:
- Your pain or gout symptoms are getting worse
- You have a high temperature too
- You feel nauseous or cannot eat
These symptoms could mean you have an infection inside your joint and need urgent medical help.
If you’re experiencing recurrent gout flare-ups, a GP may discuss other options for gout treatment, like medication. This will usually be considered if lifestyle changes are not helping.