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7 Myths About Gout

Get the facts on gout symptoms, causes and treatments

. Myth: Gout is painful, but it can’t kill you.   Truth: “Gout can’t kill you directly, but it can cause problems,” says Keenan. “It can increase cardiovascular risk and is linked to metabolic syndrome” —a group of risk factors like high cholesterol and body fats and high blood pressure—which raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Gout also may be linked to insulin resistance , the body’s shrinking ability to use insulin to lower blood sugar.  If gout is untreated, you can develop clumps of uric acid crystals called tophi, which can become infected. For the 8 Myths About Gout slideshow.

Gout can be life threatening if left untreated. — Photo by Corbis

5. Myth: Gout is painful, but it won't kill you.

Truth: Gout can't kill you directly, but it can cause serious health problems that may eventually kill you, says Robert Keenan, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Duke University. It can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke, and it also may be linked to insulin resistance, the body's shrinking ability to use insulin to lower blood sugar. If gout is untreated, you can develop clumps of uric acid crystals called tophi, which can become infected and life threatening.

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4. Myth: There’s no way to treat it.  Truth:  Many medications put the brakes on gout. Some control pain and inflammation immediately and others get at the root cause by eliminating the deposited uric acid crystals.  Colchicine [Colcrys], a plant extract, for acute gout flare-ups, treats the pain and inflammation.  “It’s been used to treat gout for about 2000 years,” says John D. Reveille, M.D., director of the division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunogenetics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Prescription drugs such as Allopurinol (Lopurin, Zyloprin), febuxostat (Uloric) and Probenecid (Benemid) all help alleviate gout by controlling blood levels of uric acid.  Two years ago the FDA approved a new intravenous drug for people with advanced gout, pegloticase (Krystexxa), which lowers uric acid levels and reduces deposits of uric acid crystals in the joints and soft tissue. For the 8 Myths About Gout slideshow.

There are prescription drugs that can treat gout. — Photo by Getty Images

6. Myth: There aren't effective medicines for gout.

Truth: Many medications put the brakes on gout. Some control pain and inflammation immediately and others get at the root cause by eliminating the deposited uric acid crystals.

Colchicine (Colcrys) is prescribed for acute gout flare-ups. A plant extract, it's been used to treat gout for 2,000 years, says Reveille. Colchicine works within several minutes to several hours to block gout inflammation. The sooner you start it, the more likely the attack will resolve quickly. An injected steroid also tackles inflammation, usually controlling pain and swelling within 24 hours.

Prescription drugs such as allopurinol (Lopurin, Zyloprim), febuxostat (Uloric) and probenecid (Benemid) all alleviate gout by controlling blood levels of uric acid. Also, two years ago the FDA approved an intravenous drug for people with advanced gout — pegloticase (Krystexxa) — that lowers uric acid levels and reduces deposits of uric acid crystals in the joints and soft tissue.

Most people who have gout will need to be on a uric-acid-lowering drug for life, usually just one or two pills a day, says George Washington University's Baraf.

7. Myth: People with gout should avoid all proteins. Truth: Animal proteins have the highest levels of purines, so it’s better to eat vegetable protein like beans and peas, which may also help you lose weight.   In fact, a 2010 review in a rheumatology journal notes that protein rich foods like dairy products, nuts, beans, peas and whole grains are healthy choices for people with gout, reducing the risk of heart disease, and possibly lowering the risk of insulin resistance. For the 8 Myths About Gout slideshow.

Changing your diet can help reduce the frequency of gout attacks. — Photo by Getty Images

7. Myth: Once you've got gout, lifestyle changes don't really help.

Truth: Lifestyle changes can reduce both the severity and frequency of attacks. For starters, when people lose weight, they often have fewer attacks, says Reveille.

Animal proteins have a higher level of purines, so it's better to eat vegetable proteins like beans and peas.

In fact, a 2010 review in the rheumatology journal Current Opinion in Rheumatology notes that protein-rich foods such as dairy products, nuts, beans, peas and whole grains are healthy choices for people with gout, reducing the risk of heart disease and possibly lowering the risk of insulin resistance.

Baraf says that he asks patients to abstain from alcohol during the first six months of treatment, until medications have stabilized uric acid levels. After that, he says, it's fine to drink — in moderation.

Dorothy Foltz-Gray is a freelance writer who lives in North Carolina.

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