If you have a tendency toward attacks of gout, there are a few things that you can do to help ward off these attacks. Faithfully taking any medications prescribed by your doctor is the first step. The following home remedies can also help, whether used in conjunction with prescribed medication or, if no medication has been prescribed, on their own.
Maintain desirable weight. Since obesity is a contributing factor, keeping to a healthy weight will help prevent attacks. Whether you need to lose a few pounds or dramatically reduce your body weight, take it slow. Crash diets don't work in the long term. Doctors often advise gout patients to adopt a reduced-calorie diet that is moderately high in protein, but low in fat. Talk to your doctor or to a registered dietitian if you need help setting up such a diet plan.
Drink eight 6-ounce glasses of fluid a day. Not only will you reduce gout attacks by washing urate out of your system, but you will also help prevent kidney stones from forming.
Avoid alcohol. It causes the body to retain urate, a definite no-no if you have gout. For years, doctors have warned patients that consuming excessive amounts of booze could cause and worsen gout, though they lacked scientific evidence to support that advice. That all changed in 2004, when a study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital showed drinking beer and liquor does indeed increase the risk of developing gout. (But score another one for the cabernet crowd: The same study found that drinking wine doesn't seem to promote gout.)
Check out your diet. The same researchers who showed that alcohol is a gout trigger also validated another long-held belief: People who eat diets rich in meat and seafood are more likely to develop the condition. (Since fish is good for the heart, ask your doctor how much is safe to include in your diet.)
Like alcohol, certain types of meat (specifically organ meats such as liver, brain, kidney, and sweetbreads) and fish (particularly anchovies, herring, and mackerel) contain large amounts of purines, chemicals that break down and form uric acid. Doctors used to warn patients away from all foods high in purines, including some vegetables such as spinach and peas. But this study found that people who eat lots of vegetables seemed to lower their gout risk, so vegetables are no longer discouraged. The same was shown to be true for people who drink a glass or two of low-fat milk each day. Doctors say that while adjusting your diet won't work miracles, it may keep gout attacks to a minimum.
Avoid nonprescription water pills and other diuretics. They slow down the excretion of uric acid, which builds up in the blood and increases the risk of gout. If you have been prescribed a diuretic for another condition, such as high blood pressure, be sure the doctor knows that you have a tendency toward attacks of gout.
Dealing with a Gout Flare-Up
Although gout produces brutal pain, it is rarely life-threatening. However, the condition requires proper diagnosis and treatment by a doctor, who can rule out other causes of joint pain and prescribe effective medications. Furthermore, evidence suggests that developing gout may be a sign that you're at risk for more serious illnesses, including heart disease. Once you've seen your physician, however, there are a few things you can do on your own.
Don't put any weight on the joint. This usually means staying off your feet as much as possible until the episode subsides. Any pressure you put on the joint will increase the pain and possibly damage the area further.
Keep the joint elevated. Let gravity help reduce inflammation by slowing the rush of blood to the painful joint.
Immobilize the joint. The less you move the joint, the better it will feel. Simply lying still will help, though you may want to build a splint for the injured joint. Ask your doctor how, or consult a first-aid guide.
Take a nonprescription anti-inflammatory. Inflammation causes swelling, which worsens pain. Both ibuprofen and aspirin are anti-inflammatories, but when taken at low levels, aspirin may actually make the pain worse. So reach for the ibuprofen. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Avoid icing or heating the area. Unlike other types of pain, gout doesn't respond well to heat or ice therapy. For instance, the warmth of a heating pad may feel good, but it will also speed up circulation, which will in turn increase inflammation by sending more white blood cells to the joint. On the other hand, crystals form more rapidly in low temperatures, so hold the ice. (By the way, doctors believe that gout tends to strike joints in the hands and feet for this very reason, since body temperatures are lowest in the extremities.)
Wear comfortable shoes. Styles that offer a lot of room for the toes are the best choice. A shoe with a narrow, pointed toe box forces the big toe inward, which can worsen gout pain.
Herbal medicine. Herbs can fight inflammation and cleanse toxins from the joints. Devil's claw root, gingerroot, meadowsweet leaves and flowertops, and white willow bark all act as anti-inflammatory agents that can relieve pain. (In fact, aspirin contains a chemical that is the synthesized version of a substance found in meadowsweet and willow.) Other helpful herbs include boswellia (frankincense), capsicum (cayenne), feverfew, and licorice.
An herbalist may prescribe this remedy to relieve joint pain. In a teapot or a saucepan, combine 1/2 teaspoon powdered devil's claw root with 1 cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Drink 1 cup daily.
Mind and body medicine. Several factors besides the inflammation response of tissues greatly influence the course of arthritis-type pain, including a person's attitude toward the condition, level of emotional distress, and ability to cope. Various mind and body techniques, such as progressive relaxation and meditation, can lead to an easing of pain.
Here's a simple relaxation technique that can ease pain and may reduce inflammation.
Wearing loose clothing, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Begin breathing deeply and slowly. With each breath, invite a different part of your body to relax. Imagine each inhaled breath as light going to the joints of your body and each exhaled breath as the pain flowing out of your joints.
Continue the slow, deep breathing for as long as you are comfortable. When you are ready, slowly return to your normal rate and rhythm of breathing and open your eyes slowly.