If you're experiencing pain, redness, swelling, or tenderness in your joints, most commonly your big toe, you may have gout. Gout affects over three million cases in the United States each year, and functional medicine can be used to help prevent flare-ups.

What Is Gout?

Gout is ultimately a form of arthritis that can affect anyone at any time, although it's usually at night. A sudden attack of pain in one or more of your joints results in redness, tenderness, and swelling. Many people experience flare-ups in their big toe, but it can affect your knees, fingers, or wrists.

Gout is caused by the accumulation of urate crystals in the joint. This accumulation is what causes the inflammation and the severe pain in a gout flare-up. Uric acid is produced when your body is breaking down purines which are natural substances in your body. Purines can also be found in food like red or organ meats or seafood like mussels, trout, sardines, scallops, tuna, or anchovies.  When your body produces too much uric acid or when your kidneys do not release enough, urate crystals form in your joints, causing them to become inflamed which causes extreme pain.

Gout flare-ups typically occur in the middle of the night, interrupting your sleep. Here are some symptoms that you might be experiencing with a gout flare-up:

  • Extreme pain in your joint that feels like it's on fire and the area becomes tender, red, and swollen.
  • After the intense pain subsides, you may experience some discomfort for up to a few weeks. If this isn't your first flare-up, gout will likely affect more joints and last longer.
  • As gout progresses, you will lose range of motion in your joints.

What Conditions Increase the Risk of Gout?

Gout can occur at any time; however, some factors can increase the chances of a flare-up. Several of these are out of a person's control. If there's a family history of gout, your chances increase of developing the disease. Your age and gender play a factor in the likelihood of the development of gout. Gout generally occurs more frequently in 30 to 50-year-old men. However, once women reach menopause, it becomes an even playing field. This increased risk is due to the higher levels of uric acid in the body.

You have control over several factors to lessen the likelihood of developing gout. If you're overweight, you increase your risk of developing gout. Your diet also plays a factor in potential gout development. If you have untreated high blood pressure or chronic conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or heart and kidney diseases, you can have a gout flare-up. Medications used to treat hypertension and low-dose aspirin can increase your risk of gout. Surgery or trauma can also enhance the likelihood of a gout attack.

What Are Treatments for Gout?

If you experience a gout attack, you may seek help from your medical provider. If left untreated, gout can lead to more intense pain or joint damage. A fever and continued hot and inflamed joints could also be a sign of infection, and you should seek medical attention.

Over-the-counter treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen sodium or ibuprofen. You can also have your doctor prescribe celecoxib or indomethacin for a more potent dose. Another option for treatment is colchicine which reduces pain associated with a flare-up. A corticosteroid may also help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by gout.

If you suffer from gout flare-ups frequently or they're extremely painful, your doctor may prescribe medications to lower your body's uric acid. Medications such as febuxostat or allopurinol block uric acid production. Another option is probenecid because it improves your body's ability to remove uric acid.

How To Prevent Gout Flare-Ups

Functional medicine is another option to consider. Typical medical treatment will manage the inflammation, but it doesn't look at the root of the problem. Utilizing functional medicine will examine lifestyle changes one can make in order to decrease the risks of gout attacks. A person can focus on nutrition, food avoidance, supplements, and herbs to reduce gout-like symptoms.

Consuming foods rich in antioxidants and potassium like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, squash, spinach, broccoli, and celery can all help to reduce gout. Foods high in fiber, rich in magnesium, low in calcium, and lacking fructose will also assist with gout reduction. Balancing your pH by drinking diluted lemon juice or apple cider vinegar will dissolve uric acid, along with drinking eight glasses of water per day. The latter will flush out the acid, reducing risk of a flare-up.

Certain foods can increase your chances of a gout attack. You will want to avoid processed foods, red meats, foods containing trans-fatty acids and oxalates, nightshades, and foods made or cooked with oil. Some foods that make this list are white bread, roasted nuts, potatoes, eggplant, beets, rhubarb, pasta, beef, and sweetbreads. Caffeine, alcohol, soft drinks, and tobacco are also triggers for gout attacks.

Taking your daily supplements can also prevent gout from occurring. You should make sure you're getting vitamins A, C, E, and B- complex. Magnesium is essential, along with calcium, selenium, and zinc. Omega-3, curcumin, and methylsulfonylmethane all help with inflammation.

Herbs are also a great way to reduce gout. Green tea, cat's claw, devil's claw, cranberry, celery seed, bilberry, bromelain, chamomile, and yuca are excellent herbs that help your body with inflammation, gut and kidney health, and antioxidants. Natural remedies are key factors in getting to the root of what can cause gout to flare up.

What To Do if You Have a Flare-Up

The pain caused by gout can be intense, so finding a way to ease the pain is beneficial. Combining wintergreen mint oil and cayenne powder can alleviate the pain. Compressing nettle tea with hot water on the inflamed area assists with reducing the pain. Soaking the joint in warm water with Epsom salt helps alkalize the joint. After soaking, apply an ice pack to assist with the inflammation further.

Gout can ruin a good night's rest. Being proactive to avoid a flare-up is highly recommended. It will make you a healthier person and provide your body with many much-needed nutrients and supplements. Functional medicine helps reduce the chances of a gout attack. If you'd like more information on functional medicine, reach out to us at the biostation. Our knowledgeable team would be happy to answer your questions and provide you with additional information.