Fight back against gout with medication and lifestyle changes, from the February 2016 Harvard Men's Health Watch

Gout is like no other joint pain. It strikes suddenly, like flicking on a light switch, and brings pain that is often severe, with intense swelling and redness. It is triggered by the crystallization of uric acid within the joints. It affects more than eight million people, but older adults are the most susceptible, according to the February 2016 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

The large joint of the big toe is the most commonly affected area, followed by the side of the foot and ankle, along with the knees, hands, and wrists. In general, if a person has one gout attack, there is a good chance he will have another within the next year.

"The first line of treatment is medication," says Dr. Robert Shmerling, clinical chief of rheumatology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. This includes common over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Pain relievers and prescription anti-inflammatories like colchicine (Colcrys) and corticosteroids also can help.

But medication is only one way to fight gout attacks. "Altering lifestyle habits can add further protection," says Dr. Shmerling. Some lifestyle changes that can help with gout include:

  • Reduce intake of meat and shellfish, which can raise uric acid levels.
  • Limit intake of alcohol and drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, such as soft drinks.
  • Increase intake of coffee, cherry juice, and vitamin C–rich foods like bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and oranges, all of which have been shown to lower uric acid levels.

To learn more about managing gout, read the full-length article: "Fight back against gout"