When should gout be treated?
Changes in lifestyle, such as limiting foods associated with gout, should be initiated in anyone who has had gouty attacks. Treatment of gout with medications is necessary when frequent disabling gouty attacks occur, when kidney stones caused by uric acid are present, when there is evidence of joint damage from gout on X-rays, or when tophi are present. Treatment should be individualized to the patient.
What is the treatment for gout?
When gout is mild, infrequent, and uncomplicated, it can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes. However, studies have shown that even the most rigorous diet does not lower the serum uric acid enough to control severe gout, and therefore medications are generally necessary. When attacks are frequent, uric acid kidney stones have occurred, tophi are present, or there is evidence of joint damage from gout attacks, medications are typically used to lower the uric acid blood level.
Medications for the treatment of gout generally fall into one of three categories: uric-acid-lowering medications, prophylactic medications (medications used in conjunction with uric-acid-lowering medications to prevent a gout flare), and rescue medications to provide immediate relief from gout pain.
Uric-acid-lowering medications are the primary treatment for gout. These medications decrease the total amount of uric acid in the body and s lower the serum uric acid level. For most patients, the goal of uric-acid-lowering medication is to achieve a serum uric acid level of less than 6 mg/dl. These medications also are effective treatments to decrease the size of tophi, with the ultimate goal of eradicating them. Uric-acid-lowering medications include allopurinol (Zyloprim, Aloprim), febuxostat (Uloric), probenecid, and pegloticase (Krystexxa).
Prophylactic medications are used during approximately the first six months of therapy with a uric-acid-lowering medication to either prevent gout flares or decrease the number and severity of flares. This is because any medication or intervention that either increases or decreases the uric acid level in the bloodstream can trigger a gout attack. Colcrys (colchicine) and any of the NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as indomethacin (Indocin, Indocin-SR), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, Voltaren-XR, Cambia), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen sodium are frequently used as prophylactic medications to prevent gout flares during uric-acid lowering. By taking one of these prophylactic or preventative medications during the first six months of treatment with allopurinol, febuxostat, or probenecid, the risk of having a gout attack during this time is decreased. Prophylactic medications are not used in combination with Krystexxa.
The third category of medications are those used during an acute gout attack to decrease pain and inflammation. Both colchicine (Colcrys) and NSAIDs can be used during an acute gout attack to decrease inflammation and pain. Steroid medications, such as prednisone and methylprednisolone (Medrol), also can be used during an acute gouty flare. However, the total dose of steroids is generally limited due to potential side effects such as cataract formation and bone loss. Steroid medications are extremely helpful in treating gout flares in patients who are unable to take colchicine or NSAIDs.
Do gout medications have any side effects?
- Gout medications are well tolerated by most people. However, like other medications, they have potential side effects. Allopurinol is well tolerated by most people, but in some people, it can cause an allergic rash. Very severe rashes rarely can occur after taking allopurinol, and any allergic type rashes that develop while a patient is taking allopurinol are taken seriously.
- Allopurinol is well tolerated by most people, but in some people, it can cause an allergic rash. Very severe rashes rarely can occur after taking allopurinol, and any allergic type rashes that develop while a patient is taking allopurinol are taken seriously.
- Colchicine (Colcrys) can cause nausea, diarrhea, and rarely muscle weakness and abnormal blood counts.
- Probenecid is generally well tolerated but should not be used in patients who have uric acid kidney stones, as it can worsen the kidney stones and potentially harm the kidneys in these patients.
- Febuxostat (Uloric) can cause liver abnormalities, nausea, and rash.
- NSAIDs can cause irritation of the stomach and ulcers in some cases. The liver and the kidneys are periodically monitored in patients taking NSAIDs over the long term.
- Krystexxa is administered as an intravenous infusion. Severe allergic reactions have been reported in a minority of people receiving Krystexxa.
What foods should people with gout avoid?
Uric acid is formed when proteins in the food we eat, called purines, are broken down. Therefore, there has been a great deal of interest in dietary management of gout by avoiding foods high in purines. However, a diet very low in purines is extremely difficult to follow, because purines are a natural part of many healthy foods. Even when a diet very low in purines is followed strictly, the uric acid level in the bloodstream is only slightly lowered.
The following dietary principles are important in the management of gout:
- Gout is associated with obesity, and significant weight loss can dramatically improve the management of gout. A calorie-reduced diet is helpful for weight loss.
- A diet low in saturated fat, with increased protein and replacement of refined carbohydrates (for example, sugar, white bread, potatoes) with complex carbohydrates (such as vegetables and whole grains) reduces the serum uric acid.
- Decreased consumption of seafood and red meat.
- The consumption of low-fat dairy products decreases the risk of gout.
- Drinking beer and liquor increase the risk of gout. However, drinking wine does not appear to increase the risk of gout.
- In one study, consumption of fresh cherries was associated with a 35% decreased risk of gout. Some people believe that black cherry juice or dried cherries have the same effect, but this has not been proven.
- Drinking beverages sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup increases the risk of gout.