What You Don’t Know About Gout Could Hurt You


Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that affects an estimated 9 million people in the United States, and it’s on the rise — especially in women. But gout is still not well understood, leaving many people in the dark about their risks and options.

A survey of 1,000 women conducted by HealthyWomen in June 2023 exposes just how little people know about gout. Overall, respondents who know someone with gout were generally more likely to be informed about gout than people who don’t know anyone with gout.

Just 2% of respondents reported having gout themselves, though 43% said they know someone with gout. Black women were three times more likely than white women to report having gout and significantly more likely to know someone with gout than white and Hispanic/Latinx women.

One in 10 respondents didn’t know what parts of the body gout can affect. In fact, gout commonly affects the big toe and other joints, but it can also affect organs such as the kidneys, heart and eyes. Respondents who know someone with gout were significantly more likely to correctly answer a question about which body parts can be affected by gout compared with people who don’t know what gout is.

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Not all respondents were clear on who is at risk of getting gout. Though a majority (62%) correctly identified that people under 45 can get gout, one-third said they didn’t know — and 7% got it wrong, saying that gout only affects older people. The truth is that gout can happen even at a young age, particularly for those who have chronic kidney disease.

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Respondents got closer on gender, with 8 out of 10 correctly identifying that, while both men and women can get gout, it is substantially more common in men.

The survey results revealed opportunities for better education about the causes and treatment approaches for gout.

The main causes of gout include genetics and hormonal changes, though diet and weight can also play a role. Two out of 5 respondents said they believe that an unhealthy weight or lifestyle, such as poor diet or excessive alcohol consumption, is the main cause of gout. About the same percentage said they don’t know if that’s true or not. Younger respondents (ages 35 to 44) were more likely than those ages 45 to 54 to get this question wrong (45% vs. 34%). Respondents who know someone with gout were also more likely to blame weight and lifestyle than those who don’t know anyone with gout (32% vs. 26%). The common assumption that gout is primarily caused by lifestyle choices unfortunately results in a stigma associated with the disease and some patients blaming themselves for their symptoms.

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Gout is caused by the buildup of uric acid in the blood, which creates tiny, needle-shaped crystals. It’s these crystals that deposit in the joints and other organs, causing pain and inflammation. But what causes that buildup? The answer is that many things contribute to uric acid levels. Nearly 1 out of 3 respondents correctly identified that what you eat can raise uric acid levels, while approximately 1 out of 5 identified genetic causes, which is also correct. One in 10 respondents did not know what contributes to high uric acid levels in the body.

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Many respondents were also not clear on when gout should be treated. Even between gout flares, those living with gout should be taking steps to actively manage the condition. However, 3 out of 10 respondents said they don’t know if gout needs to be treated in between flare-ups and 9% incorrectly said that it does not. Though 6 out of 10 respondents correctly identified that it is false to say gout only needs to be treated during a flare-up, the lack of understanding of when to treat gout also points to educational opportunities. People who know someone with gout were much less likely to say they don’t know that you need to treat gout in between flare-ups, compared with people who don’t know anyone with gout (56% vs. 71%).

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Quick facts about gout

  • Gout is a type of arthritis that causes joint swelling, which can lead to severe pain, redness and soreness in the joints.
  • Gout can come on with a flare, often striking at night with intense pain.
  • A telltale sign of gout is pain in your big toe, though women with gout often experience pain in other joints as well, such as the fingers or elbows.
  • Gout is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and the appearance of the joints, but healthcare providers may use diagnostic tests such as fluid tests, blood tests, X-rays or ultrasounds.
  • Diet, lifestyle, hormonal factors and genetics can all contribute to gout.
  • Treatment for gout includes medications to reduce the swelling and pain of gout flare-ups and to prevent complications from gout by reducing uric acid levels, the underlying cause of gout.

This resource was created with support from Horizon Therapeutics.

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