“You’re too young to have gout.”
That’s how one physician responded to Gary Ho when, at age 24, he began developing symptoms of the disease. His physician was wrong.
Today, Ho manages the disease while also serving as co-founder of the Gout Support Group of America, a national support community for people of all ages who live with gout.
“Most young people don’t worry about gout,” Ho says. “But they aren’t immune to it. I certainly wasn’t.”
Gout at a Glance
It’s true that gout, a chronic form of inflammatory arthritis, affects primarily older men. But those men most likely experience their first flare-ups between age 30 and 50. Young people – both women and men – can and do experience gout.
Gout is caused when uric acid, which occurs naturally in the body as a waste product, builds up to unsafe levels in the blood. When uric acid crystals accumulate around joints, patients experience inflammation, severe pain, swelling and redness.
Flares, also known as gout attacks, often begin in the big toe. They can also occur in other joints throughout the body. Because the disease is chronic, recurring attacks get worse if left untreated. Joints can become damaged over time, which limits the patient’s range of motion and can require surgery to correct. Meanwhile, patients often face comorbidities and possible complications of gout, such as kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and bone loss.
Proactive & Ongoing Care Can Help
Young people may be more likely to try to hide or ignore the condition instead of seeking prompt treatment. That may be due to outdated associations with overindulgence that once marked gout as “the disease of kings.”
But avoiding the issue can cause serious complications later.
Though gout cannot be cured, it can be managed. Patients typically require the care of a gout specialist and a tailored treatment regimen. Many patients can stay flare free and avoid the more serious complications of uric-acid deposits, called tophi, forming in the joints. With timely diagnosis and effective treatment, patients can preserve their quality of life and avoid expensive and painful surgeries.
“Increased awareness about gout risk factors and treatments should be a priority for young people,” Ho says. “It’s important to seek treatment and to find a supportive community as early as possible.”