Gout is a painful and debilitating condition that causes joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
It develops when uric acid builds up in the blood, eventually forming crystals in and around your joints. These crystals can cause swelling and inflammation, known as a gout ‘flare’ or attack, which normally last for 5 to 7 days — although it can last longer.
It's normal to have a small amount of uric acid in the blood as it’s a natural waste product released when your body breaks down a type of protein called purines. Purines are found in your cells and in foods like red meat, seafood and offal.
But if your body is producing too much uric acid for your body to handle, this can lead to gout.
How is gout managed and how can I treat it at home?
Gout is often managed with medications like allopurinol, which helps to reduce the amount of uric acid in your blood. But experts say that adopting a healthy lifestyle could also help to treat the condition.
- drinking plenty of water
- eating a balanced diet
- getting plenty of gentle exercise
- cutting down on alcohol
Drink plenty of water
The level (or concentration) of uric acid in your blood is higher when you’re dehydrated, so it’s important to try and drink at least 8 glasses of water every day.
This helps to flush out any excess uric acid, and reduce the risk of crystals forming in your joints. It also helps to keep your kidneys healthy, which is important because your kidneys are responsible for removing uric acid from your system.
Drink more water during an attack
The Arthritis Foundation recommends that you increase your water intake during an attack — drinking up to 16 glasses a day to make sure that the level of uric acid in your blood doesn't get too high.
You can drink fruit juice, tea or coffee too. But it’s best to avoid anything with large amounts of sugar, because consuming a lot of sugar can increase your risk of a flare or attack.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet
Studies show that you’re more likely to develop gout if you’re overweight. This is because being overweight makes your kidneys work less efficiently and stops them removing some of the uric acid in your blood.
It could also be because certain types of fat release inflammatory chemicals that can trigger a flare up.
Whatever the reason, experts say that maintaining a healthy weight is key to controlling gout and reducing your symptoms. This means eating a balanced and healthy diet that’s high in vegetables and fibre, and low in processed food, and food that contains a lot of fat or added sugar.
You should also avoid eating too much red meat, game, mushrooms or wholegrains because these foods contain a lot of purines. Instead, try eating low-purine foods like bread, pasta, fruit and vegetables, and dairy produce.
Try some gentle exercise
Physical exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, but it’s important to avoid activities that put strain on your joints. Some experts recommend swimming because the water will support your body weight and take some of the pressure off your joints.
If you don’t enjoy swimming, you can also try cycling, walking or dancing. The important thing is to start slowly, and work your way up to doing at least 150 minutes of low-intensity exercise every week.
Cut down on alcohol
Drinking large amounts of alcohol can raise the level of uric acid in your blood — raising your risk of a bad flare or attack.
This is because alcoholic beverages like beer or spirits are naturally high in purines. In fact, studies suggest that drinking 2 to 4 bottles of beer can increase your risk of a gout attack by 75% for the next 24 hours.
Alcohol is also turned into lactic acid when it's digested, and lactic acid interferes with the ability of your to remove uric acid from your system.
Try to cut down on alcohol if you can — aiming for at least 2 alcohol-free days per week.
Do herbal remedies work?
If you search online for home remedies for gout, you might read that it’s helpful to try a herbal remedy like devil’s claw, nettle leaves or quercetin. But there isn’t enough evidence to say whether or not these medicines can help with gout, and they can interact with other medications.
Talk to a doctor before trying a herbal remedy, or stick to proven strategies like eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water.
Managing flare-ups at home
Changing your diet and lifestyle may help to reduce the frequency of flare-ups, but what should you do when you have an attack?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, you can manage small flares at home by elevating your joints and applying an ice pack to the affected area.
This will take some of the pressure off your joint, and the ice pack will shrink the surrounding blood vessels — reducing inflammation and helping with your pain.
You can also try walking with a cane. But if your pain is very bad it’s probably time to see a doctor. They may be able to prescribe an anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce your swelling. Or help you to tackle the underlying causes of gout.
- gout is often managed with medication, but adopting a healthy lifestyle can help
- increase your water intake during an attack so the level of uric acid in your blood doesn't get too high
- maintaining a healthy weight is key to controlling gout and reducing your symptoms
- avoid red meat, game, seafood or offal, and lower your alcohol intake
- you can manage small flares at home by elevating your joints and applying an ice pack