Chances are good that you have either experienced gout or know someone who has. Gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting more than 8 million Americans.

Chances are good that you have either experienced gout or know someone who has. Gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting more than 8 million Americans.

Gout can be very painful. A typical gout attack usually involves the big toe, making it hot, swollen and extremely sensitive to touch. But gout can affect any joint in the body, such as fingers, wrists or knees. Left untreated, gout can cause erosion and destruction of the joint.

Some people may never experience gout, while others are plagued with recurrent attacks. Gout is more common in men than women, and certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease can increase your odds of getting gout. If other members of your family have had gout, you are more likely to develop the disease. Experiencing a recent surgery or trauma also has been associated with an increased risk of a gout attack.

Gout is caused by a condition called hyperuricemia, meaning too much uric acid in the body. Uric acid is formed during the breakdown, or digestion, of purines, a chemical compound found in the body and in certain foods. Normally, uric acid dissolves in your blood and passes through your kidneys to be expelled in your urine. But, people with gout can’t efficiently remove excess uric acid. This uric acid build up forms sharp, needlelike crystals in a joint or surrounding tissue, leading to a gout attack that can last for days or even weeks.

Chronic high levels of uric acid also can lead to hard deposits beneath the skin or the crystals can form into kidney stones. Gout is primarily managed with medications that control the pain and inflammation or that block uric acid production. Making certain lifestyle and diet changes are also important to reduce recurrent attacks of gout.

Gout was once called a rich man’s disease because it was associated with people who indulged in a diet heavy in meat and wine. You may have been told to limit fatty foods if you have had gout.

There is some truth in this, but these are the most current recommendations for preventing recurrent gout.

1. Limit alcohol. Beer, especially, is high in purines. All alcohol makes it harder for the kidneys to get rid of uric acid.

2. Watch your meat intake. Be mindful of portion size and frequency of red meat. Ideally, keep your portion to a moderate 4-6 ounces and aim for less than four servings a week. Avoid organ meats, such as liver and sweetbreads. Shellfish and some seafood, such as sardines and scallops, are high in purines, so don’t overindulge in those. Game meats (venison, duck, pheasant, etc.) are also high in purines.

3. Limit beverages containing sugar. Fructose and sugar-sweetened beverages tend to increase levels of uric acid. Fruit juice is a concentrated source of fructose, so go easy on juice.

4. Watch your weight. If you are overweight, you body produces more uric acid and your kidneys have a harder time eliminating it. Losing weight will lower uric acid levels and reduce stress on joints.

5. Increase your water intake. Dehydration can spike uric acid levels, triggering an attack. Adequate fluid is necessary for the kidneys to work properly.

6. Drink milk. Consumption of milk is associated with lower uric acid levels.

7. Add cherries or cherry juice to your regular diet. Some research has shown that cherries help decrease uric acid and reduce chances of a flare.

8. Vitamin C has been found to decrease uric acid in the body. Aim for at least 500 mg daily. Good sources include citrus fruits, strawberries and pineapple.

9. Coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk for gout than those that do not drink coffee, so go ahead and enjoy your coffee.