Signs and Symptoms of Gout in Seniors – And How to Prevent It

Gout is a type of arthritis that is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a waste product that is created when the body breaks down purines. Purines are found in many foods, including red meat, seafood, and beer.

People with gout often experience joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. In severe cases, gout can cause damage to the joints and even kidney stones.

There is no cure for gout, but there are treatments that can help control the symptoms. These include medications to reduce uric acid levels and dietary changes to limit the number of purines in the diet.

Symptoms of Gout in Seniors

The symptoms of gout oftentimes appear suddenly and frequently at night, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most common symptoms of gout are:

Intense joint pain. Gout usually impacts the big toe of a senior. However, gout can occur in any joint. Other commonly affected joints include:

  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Fingers

Pain Associated With Gout

The pain associated with gout can be virtually unbearable in some instances. The pain of gout is likely to be most severe within the first four to 12 hours after it commences.

Lingering discomfort is common with a gout flare-up. After the most severe pain subsides, some joint discomfort is likely to last from a few days to as long as a few weeks. Later attacks of gout are likely to last longer and affect more joints.

The affected joint or joints become swollen, tender, warm, and red. As gout progresses, you may not be able to move your joints normally.

Causes of Gout

Gout occurs when urate crystals accumulate in a joint in your body – usually one of the big toes. This causes inflammation and intense pain associated with a gout attack. Urate crystals can form when you have high uric acid levels in your blood. Your body produces uric acid when it breaks down what is known as purines — substances that are found naturally in your body.
Purines are a type of organic compound found in the genetic material of all living cells. They are also present in many foods, such as liver, beer, and seafood. Purine-rich seafood includes anchovies, sardines, mussels, scallops, trout, and tuna. High concentrations of purines are also found in drinks sweetened with fruit sugar or fructose.

Purines are necessary for the body to make DNA and RNA, which are essential for cell growth and replication. Too much purine in the diet can cause health problems, such as gout and kidney stones.

Normally, uric acid dissolves in a senior’s blood and passes through the kidneys into the urine. Sometimes a senior’s body produces too much uric acid, or the kidneys excrete too little uric acid. When either of these situations occurs, uric acid can build up. When uric acid builds up, it forms sharp, needlelike urate crystals. These piercing crystals form in a person’s joint or surrounding tissue and cause pain, inflammation, and swelling.

Strategies to Prevent Gout Flare-Ups

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends several things a senior (or person of any age) can do to prevent gout attacks:

  • Eat a healthy diet. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as red meat, poultry, and high-fat dairy products.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water is best. Avoid sugary drinks like soda and juice.
  • Exercise regularly. This helps to reduce uric acid levels in the body.
  • Lose weight if needed. Extra weight puts stress on the joints and increases the risk of gout attacks.
  • Wear comfortable shoes that support your feet properly. Avoid high heels whenever possible.
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
  • Alcohol increases uric acid levels in the bloodstream.
  • Do not take aspirin or other NSAIDs unless prescribed by your doctor. These medications can increase your risk of developing gout flare-ups.
  • If you are taking medication to lower your uric acid levels, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Do not stop taking your medication without first consulting your doctor. (As discussed previously, lowering uric acid levels can help prevent gout attacks.
  • Get regular checkups with your doctor. This will help ensure that your uric acid levels are under control and that you are not at risk for developing gout flare-ups.

Risk Factors for Gout

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are seven common risk factors for gout. Some of these risk factors have been touched on elsewhere in this article. These seven risk factors are:

  1. Diet. We previously discussed in detail dietary factors that can lead to gout in some people.
  2. Weight. If you’re overweight, your body will produce more uric acid. As a result, your kidneys will have a more difficult time eliminating uric acid.
  3. Medical conditions. Certain diseases and conditions increase your risk of gout. These include untreated high blood pressure and chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart and kidney diseases.
  4. Certain medications. Low-dose aspirin and some medications used to control hypertension (including thiazide diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and beta blockers) also can increase uric acid levels. Additionally, the use of anti-rejection drugs is prescribed for people who have undergone organ transplants.
  5. Family history of gout. If other family members have had gout, you are more likely to develop the disease at some juncture in your own life.
  6. Age and sex. Gout occurs more often in men. This is primarily the case because women tend to have lower uric acid levels. With that said, after menopause, women’s uric acid levels approach those of men. Men are also more likely to develop gout earlier — usually between the ages of 30 and 50 — whereas women generally develop gout later in life.
  7. Recent surgery or trauma. Experiencing recent surgery or trauma can sometimes trigger a gout attack. In some instances, receiving a vaccination can trigger a gout flare-up in some people.

See Your Doctor

Finally, if you are over 60 years old and experiencing gout symptoms, it is important to see your doctor. Gout can be treated, but it is important to get treatment early to reduce the risk of damage to your joints.

Your doctor will likely prescribe medication to help relieve your symptoms and lower your risk of further damage. There are also steps you can take at home to help relieve pain and inflammation, including:

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
Applying ice packs to the affected area for 20 minutes several times a day
Elevating the affected joint above the heart level