Study finds gout flare-ups may increase risk of heart attack and stroke

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults, and stroke (another cardiovascular disease) is one of the top five causes of death.

While certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, genetics also play a role in determining the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke. This is also true with certain health conditions. A new study shows that gout, a common form of arthritis, may be associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

Gout flare-ups are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke for some time after the flare-up occurs, according to research from the United Kingdom published in the journal JAMA of the American Medical Association.

The study followed 62,574 people with gout and found that “patients who had a heart attack or stroke were twice as likely to have had a gout flare in the 60 days before [cardiovascular] event, and one and a half times more likely to have a gout flare in the preceding 61-120 days.

This means that if you experience a gout attack, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular events in the four months after the occurrence.

“People with gout tend to have more cardiovascular risk factors,” according to the research. Furthermore, the study indicated that gout ultimately leads to severe inflammation that manifests itself “as joint pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness that often lasts one to two weeks. These episodes, called gout flares, often recur. Inflammation is also a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.”

Currently, about 8.3 million Americans have gout, and that number is expected to rise in the coming years as obesity rates rise and Baby Boomers age. In other words, many Americans now have even more reason to monitor their heart health.

So what can you do to protect your heart health if you have gout? And how can you reduce the risk of developing the condition? An expert shared some tips to help below.

What is gout and who is prone to it?

Gout is “a disease that causes inflammation of the joints [and] is the most common [type of] inflammatory arthritis,” according to Dr. Ethan Craig, an assistant professor of rheumatology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Essentially, “gout is caused by an immune reaction to monosodium urate crystals in the joints,” he said. These crystals are produced when you have high levels of uric acid in your blood.

Gout flares (which is when joints become sore, red, or swollen commonly in the big toe, knee, and ankle) occur when something occasionally triggers the immune system to notice crystals in the joints, Craig noted. Outbreaks vary in severity, but can become chronic and even lead to joint destruction.

Can the risk of developing gout be reduced?

Unfortunately, a large component of gout risk is genetic, Craig said. “I stress this because there is a misconception that gout is entirely due to dietary or lifestyle choices, but in most cases, this is not true,” he added.

There are some things you can do to help lower your risk of developing gout. Craig noted that weight loss, moderating alcohol intake and following a Mediterranean diet are ways to lower uric acid levels. It’s important to note that it’s not clear whether these lifestyle choices completely prevent gout.

Gout flare-ups commonly occur in the toes, ankles, and knees.

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Gout flare-ups commonly occur in the toes, ankles, and knees.

If you have gout, there are ways to control it

All of this may sound a bit bleak, but there’s good news: Gout is highly treatable, Craig said.

Acute flare-ups are treated with an anti-inflammatory or steroid medication, he explained. And with long-term treatment, doctors address the underlying cause, which is high uric acid levels, through lifestyle changes or medication.

If you have gout, you must keep up with your treatments. Gout is a lifelong condition that requires ongoing and constant monitoring; it can also become dangerous and even more painful if left untreated.

In addition, there are methods to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke

If you suffer from gout and are nervous about the increased risk of cardiovascular events, you can make some simple lifestyle changes to improve your heart health while continuing to manage your gout.

Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein, not smoking and exercising regularly are ways to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Walking for 21 minutes a day also reduces the risk of heart disease by 30%, according to Harvard Health. And Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the sports cardiology center at the Cleveland Clinic, previously told HuffPost that walking can benefit everyone, whether or not they’re at increased cardiovascular risk.

Going for a walk can help control things like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Activity can also prevent heart attacks and strokes, Singh said.

While gout flare-ups can mean an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, there are ways to manage both gout and heart health to help prevent these cardiovascular events from occurring.

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