Real World Health Care Blog

“Go for Six”: Raising Awareness about Gout and Elevated Uric Acid Levels

N. Lawrence Edwards, MD

N. Lawrence Edwards, MD

Though gout is extremely common — affecting even more Americans than Rheumatoid Arthritis — it is a disease that gets very little attention. While gout incidence is on the rise in the U.S., research from the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society has shown that only 10 percent of gout sufferers are being properly treated — and more than one-third have not had their uric acid levels checked within the past five years. This lack of action could be a result of low awareness in general about gout. Consider that:

  • 7 in 10 adults don’t know that gout is a form of arthritis.
  • 3 in 4 don’t know the parts of the body that gout affects.
  • just 1 in 5 thinks that gout is a “serious” condition.
  • half are not aware of the potentially crippling effects of untreated gout.
  • less than 1 in 5 recognizes serious health issues, including kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, as complications of gout and an elevated uric acid level.

Unfortunately, while many people do not recognize gout as a “serious” condition, it can have devastating consequences if left untreated. Gout is caused by an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints and other tissues. Over time, these crystals can lead to painful attacks of gout, which are characterized by sudden pain, warmth and swelling in one or more joints. While people who have gout know very well that it is painful — with the majority ranking their pain as a nine or 10 on a standard pain scale — they do not always understand that gout is a chronic issue that requires immediate and lifelong treatment, beyond the flare-up. If uric acid levels are not lowered in a person who has gout, flares will persist over time and permanent damage to the joints, bones and tissue can occur. Gout and high levels of uric acid, or hyperuricemia, have also been connected with other serious health problems, including kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes.

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Because of these potential risks, it is important for treatment to begin early — even at the initial attack. Once a definitive gout diagnosis is made, steps need to be taken, including lowering uric acid to the recommended level of below 6 mg/dL. For the majority of people, a treatment plan includes taking long-term uric acid-lowering medications to keep uric acid at a healthy level. Uric acid-lowering medication should not be discontinued unless drug side effects occur — and uric acid levels should be monitored every six months to ensure that they are on target. Following a diagnosis, the physician will also recommend other steps that should be taken, including exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight; staying hydrated; and avoiding certain foods that are high in purines (i.e. red meat, seafood and beer) and contain high-fructose corn syrup.

To help raise awareness about the importance of regular monitoring of uric acid levels, the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society recently introduced the new “Go for Six” campaign. The campaign — which draws on the personal experiences of former professional football player and gout sufferer, Anthony “Spice” Adams — encourages those who have or who are at risk for gout to have their uric acid levels checked regularly through a routine blood test, then determine the right treatment plan with their doctor.

As part of the awareness campaign, the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society offers complimentary resources for the general public and medical professionals, including an educational poster and brochure. These materials, along with other gout resources, can be downloaded and ordered via GoutEducation.org.

While gout cannot be cured, it can be better managed, and even completely controlled, through the proper treatment plan. Early diagnosis and ongoing treatment/management is critical to preventing future gout flares and permanent damage.

Do you or someone you love have gout? How are you managing and controlling your symptoms? Let us know in the comments section.

About N. Lawrence Edwards, MD

As Chairman of the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society, Dr. Edwards is committed to educating the public and health care community about gout and the related consequences of hyperuricemia. Dr. Edwards is also a Professor of Medicine for Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at the University of Florida.