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Having it out with Gout

14 July 2014

Having it out with Gout

For gout sufferers, the inflammatory affliction can cause feelings of embarrassment, denial, guilt and a lot of pain. Issue 3 of Pacific Peoples Health describes how New Zealand has been tagged the ‘Gout Capital of the World’ with many people suffering from the form of arthritis, caused by elevated uric acid levels in the blood.

Growing research shows genetics is the main reason gout is far more prevalent in Pacific and Maori than other ethnicities, with 6% of Maori and 8% Pacific people affected compared to 3% of Europeans, and men are more likely to get gout than women.

Due to the stigma surrounding gout, some people feel ashamed to admit they have it.

Arthritis NZ Chief Executive Officer Sandra Kirby suspects a number of myths about gout contribute to the shame.

“Included in those myths about gout is the concept of too much rich food and too much alcohol,” Sandra explains.

“While food and alcohol do contribute for Maori and Pacific people, there’s a strong genetic connection. There’s also the dangerous misconception that there’s not much you can do if you get gout and it will go away anyway.”

University of Otago Associate Professor Tony Merriman became interested in gout and its impact while researching rheumatoid arthritis.

He says genetics is the main reason behind the high incidence of gout in Pacific and Maori people as they have naturally higher levels of uric acid, the primary cause of gout.

Initial results from his research show a specific genetic variant within a gene called SLC2A9 approximately doubles your risk of gout if you are of European descent.

But if you’re of Maori or Pacific ancestry, your chance of gout increases by more than five times.

He stresses that prevention is obviously key when dealing with gout.

“Prevention relieves the burden on the sufferer and their family and given gout primarily affects working age men, this will have positive effects on Pacific and Maori communities, and lead to reduction of health disparities,” he says.

Although a serious problem, gout is preventable, and it can be effectively treated by medicines.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important as untreated gout can cause major and permanent joint damage.

Uric acid medicines are available to bring uric acid levels down, which need to be taken daily even during a gout attack, while gout attack medicines treat gout attacks – these medicines are taken when a gout attack is coming on or if in pain.

Keeping to a healthy weight can also help reduce uric acid and therefore gout, as can eating three meals each day, choosing small servings of meat and seafood, eating low-fat dairy foods daily and drinking lots of water, and less alcohol.

Pharmacists, GPs or doctor’s nurses can help determine the right gout treatment for each individual, and patients are more likely to make lifestyle changes if they understand their condition.

About Pacific Peoples Health
Pacific Peoples Health is a FREE Publication targeting Pacific people in New Zealand. Educating and informing Pacific health service users, it is New Zealand's only publication dedicated solely to Pacific people's health.

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