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7 Myths About Gout

Get the facts on gout symptoms, causes and treatments

2. Myth: Women don’t get gout. Truth: Older women are also vulnerable. “Gout is ten times more common in men than in women, until women reach menopause. The incidence of new cases of gout in men and women tends to equal out after age 60 or so.”  That’s because with the loss of estrogen, uric acid rises. Gout’s also more common in people who eat and drink too much, or those who have other health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol. Genes also play a part: If your parents had gout, you’re more likely to as well. For 8 Myths about Gout slideshow.

Gout is not a gender-specific disease. — Photo by Corbis

2. Myth: Women aren't afflicted by gout.

Truth: Men and women alike can develop the disease, although men are more vulnerable earlier in life. "Gout is 10 times more common in men than in women, until women reach menopause. The incidence of new cases of gout in men and women tends to equal out after age 60 or so," says Herbert Baraf, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

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3. Myth: Gout pain always starts in the big toe Truth: It’s true that gout often first attacks the joints of the big toe, but that’s not always the case. In women with osteoarthritis, for example, gout pain commonly starts in the small joints of the hands. Although the first attacks often involves only one or two joints, over time multiple joints become affected. If the disease isn’t treated, it can cause permanent damage. For 8 Myths About Gout slideshow.

Throbbing pain on the tip of your big toe? You might have gout. — Photo by Veronique Beranger/Getty Images

3. Myth: Gout pain always attacks the big toe.

Truth: Gout occurs when uric acid builds up in the blood, forming crystals that lodge in and inflame joints. It's true that gout often first attacks the joints of the big toe, but it can also occur in the knees, ankles, feet and hands. In women with osteoarthritis, for example, gout pain commonly starts in the small joints of the hands. Although the first attacks often involve only one or two joints, over time multiple joints become affected. If the disease isn't treated, it can cause permanent damage.

6. Myth: To sidestep gout, you only need to avoid liver and alcohol.  Truth:   Liver and other organ meats, alcohol— especially beer—and some fish like sardines and anchovies are high-purine culprits. And high levels of purines increase uric acid levels, upping the risk of a gout attack. Cutting back on these foods and drinks may reduce but not halt attacks, says Reveille.  Alcohol carries a double whammy: it increases uric acid levels, and also interferes with uric acid excretion. “I ask my patients to avoid alcohol during the first six months of treatment,” says Baraf. Once the arthritis and uric acid levels are controlled, you can have anything to eat or drink in moderation.  Most people will need to be on uric acid lowering medication for life, usually just one pill a day, says Baraf. For the 8 Myths About Gout slideshow.

Avoiding alcohol may reduce your chance of getting gout attacks. — Photo by Lew Robertson/Corbis

4. Myth: If you stay away from liver and alcohol, you'll avoid gout attacks.

Truth: Alcoholic drinks — especially beer — and organ meats such as liver and some fish, including anchovies and sardines, are very high in a class of natural substances known as purines. When the body breaks down purines it creates uric acid, so eating a lot of purine-rich foods does increase the risk of an attack. But while avoiding these foods may reduce attacks, it won't halt them, says Reveille.

Next: Can gout kill you? »

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