Gout: A weighty problem

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That the prevalence of obesity is rising in the U.S. is no secret. However, few people may realize that, among the other obesity-related diseases more commonly cited, such excess body weight puts them at risk for gout. In fact, the number of Americans with this very painful form of arthritis is on the rise: Between 1988 and 1994, just 1 percent of Americans had been diagnosed with gout; in 2008 that number was estimated at 4 percent, according to government health surveys.

This increase in the incidence of gout may well be linked to the higher rates of obesity and blood pressure, say the authors of a study appearing in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism. The swelling of the joints characteristic of gout is caused by the accumulation of uric acid crystals. Factors that increase the body s production of uric acid, or slow its removal, also raise the risk of gout. As it happens, obesity and high blood pressure are among these factors: In the most recent health survey, more than 21 percent of respondents had high uric acid levels, compared to only 3 percent in the surveys from over two decades ago.

Most people are not at all aware of this potential effect of obesity, notes ACSH's Dr. Ruth Kava. Perhaps this finding will motivate more people to prevent or deal with excess body fat.