A gout attack can come fast and furious and cause excruciating pain, redness and swelling in a joint. These symptoms are caused by the formation of needle-like crystals in the soft tissue of a joint, and over the centuries gout pain has inspired many writings, illustrations and cartoons. (Hippocrates even wrote about it in the fifth century B.C.!)
Despite the fact that gout has been around for a long time and affects millions of people, most people don’t know much about it. Here are a few facts that aren’t widely known:
1. Coffee reduces your risk
People who drink coffee have a lower risk of developing gout.1,2,3 Scientists are exploring why this relationship exists. Other caffeinated drinks, such as green tea, do not seem to have an inverse relationship with gout.
In contrast to drinking coffee, drinking fructose-laden sodas have been found to increase a person’s risk of developing gout.4,5
2. You can be at high risk and not know it
During a gout attack, severe joint pain can erupt in just a matter of hours, so it may be surprising to know that hyperuricemia, the precursor of gout, can lurk unnoticed for years.
Hyperuricemia is an abnormally high amount of uric acid in the blood. Being hyperuricemic does not mean you will definitely develop the uric acid crystals that cause gout, but it does significantly increase the likelihood.
If you have risk factors that make you more prone to gout—for example, if you are middle age or older, overweight, and regularly taking aspirin or diuretics—you may want to talk to your doctor about testing for hyperuricemia. Simple lifestyle adjustments can lower your risk of a future gout attack.
3. Gout can be triggered by an injury or another medical condition
This fact seems particularly unfair: You may be more susceptible to a gout attack right after a traumatic injury, surgery or infection or during medical therapy (e.g. chemotherapy). These events can cause a change in body chemistry and spur a gout flare-up.
Even stopping or starting allopurinol, a prescription drug used to treat gout, can bring on a gout attack. For this reason, a person should not start, stop, or change allopurinol dosage without consulting a doctor.