Gout incidence grows; new tip sheet offers coverage ideas

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Gout is a devastating disease at any age, but can hit older adults especially hard. It is the most common inflammatory arthritis seen in the elderly. As this tip sheet by Eileen Beal describes, gout is very painful, manifesting with pain, swelling, heat, tenderness and stiffness in the joints.

A report published in the Jan. 15 issue of Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases shows an escalating incidence and prevalence of gout among people in the UK. As Medscape reported, researchers found gout prevalence increased by some 63 percent (from 1.52 percent to 2.47 percent) and incidence rose from 1.36 to 1.77 per 1,000 person-years between 1997 and 2012. A similar increase had been previously seen among people in the U.S. According to a 2011 study, researchers thought the higher rates were likely due to rising incidence of obesity and hypertension. Gout is also linked to a higher incidence of heart attack or stroke.

Gout strikes middle-aged men more frequently than women, but there’s no gender difference in elderly adults, according to Penn State Hershey Medical Center. In this group, gout is most often associated with kidney problems and the use of diuretics. Advancing age itself is also a risk factor. Gout is also associated with metabolic syndrome and heart attacks in the elderly, so it’s especially important for seniors to be aware of, monitor and treat this condition. Gout can severely hamper mobility – already an issue for many older adults; the pain and stiffness seriously impacts quality of life.

Treatment includes NSAIDs, corticosteroids and colchicine (an analgesic drug derived from the saffron plant) to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, as well as compounds which lower uric acid level in the blood. Some patients can manage their conditions through dietary modifications. Eating cherries has long been touted as a natural remedy – they contain anthocyanins, an antioxidant that actually reduces uric acid. However, people need to eat up to three servings, or roughly one and a half cups, to prevent a gout attack. That can get expensive, particularly for those on fixed incomes.

Elderly gout patients have higher health care utilization and costs than those without the disease. Gout represents about six percent of total health costs for seniors with this condition. By proactively managing the condition, it’s possible to avoid or minimize painful gout attacks.

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