NOTTINGHAM, United Kingdom — Gout flare-ups are painful enough on their own, but a new study finds they can also increase a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers have found that gout patients who suffered a heart attack or stroke were twice as likely to have had a flare-up within the previous 60 days. Those who died from a severe cardiac event were also four times more likely to have experienced a painful flare-up recently.
Gout patients were one-and-a-half time more likely to have had a flare-up 61 to 120 days prior to a heart attack or stroke, according to the study conducted by scientists at the University of Nottingham and Keele University.
Of the 62,574 gout patients treated by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) included in the study, 10,475 experienced a heart attack or stroke after their diagnosis.
What is gout?
Gout is a common and often recurring form of arthritis affecting roughly four percent of all U.S. adults. The condition causes joint pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness for one to two weeks — usually centering around the big toe and foot. Those with the condition tend to have more cardiovascular risk factors.
The new study, published in the journal JAMA, is the first of its kind to look for an association between recent gout flares and cardiac events, according to the researchers.
“The results show that among patients with gout, patients who experienced a heart attack or stroke had significantly increased odds of a gout flare during the preceding 120-days compared with patients who did not experience such events,” says study leader Professor Abhishek Abhishek from the University of Nottingham in a media release.
“These findings suggest that gout flares are associated with a transient increase in cardiovascular events following flares.”
Gout stems from a buildup of uric acid, a chemical produced by the breakdown of bodily tissues and also found in certain foods and drinks. In high levels of the acid, needle-shaped urate crystals can form in and around the joints causing severe inflammation.
Is there a treatment?
Prof. Abhishek says people with recurrent gout flares should be candidates for long-term treatment with urate-lowering drugs such as allopurinol. This medication reliably removes urate crystal deposits and rids gout sufferers of painful flares.
The study author adds that patients should concurrently receive anti-inflammatory medicine like colchicine for the first few months, because urate lowering treatments could trigger more flares in the short-term.
“People with gout should be encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle with appropriate treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes to minimize their background risk of heart attack and stroke,” Prof. Abishek concludes.
South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.