Living with the pain of gout

Dave Myers

Dave Myers

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Hairy Biker Dave Myers has revealed he was suffering gout during his recent appearance of Strictly Come Dancing. Catherine Scott looks at the painful condition which affects the joints.

“Darcey (Bussell) kept telling me to point my toes. If only she’d known what pain I was in,” says Hairy Biker Dave Myers.

The bearded biking cook took part in the recent series of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing, but no one knew that he was suffering from a condition often associated with gentlemen who overindulge – gout.

But, with people living longer than ever, gout is on the rise, and it’s not just older people who are affected.

It is, in fact, the most common type of inflammatory arthritis, affecting 1.4 per cent of UK adults, and is widely recognised as one of the most excruciating forms of joint pain.

A rapid onset of intense pain and swelling in the affected joint is the main symptom, but as Professor Alan Silman, Arthritis Research UK’s medical director points out, gout can be acute or chronic.

“With acute gout, you get a sudden attack of what looks like arthritis, normally affecting just one joint. Often it’s the big toe, though we’re not sure why,” he says. “But it could be an ankle, a wrist or an elbow.

“That joint, over a very short period of time [a few hours, for instance], becomes very swollen, very red and extremely tender.”

Skin in the affected area may also appear shiny. Acute attacks will normally settle after a few days, returning to normal after a week to 10 days.

Chronic gout, Dr Silman adds, may occur with more of a gradual onset, and might look like osteoarthritis, but only affecting one joint.

Some people with high uric acid levels can experience chalky white deposits coming out in unpleasant looking lumps, which can occur in any part of the body.

“It could come out of the ear, often on the back of the hands,” explains Dr Silman. “That’s the first thing somebody might notice, that they’ve got these deposits coming through and they’re not sure what they are. If you have this, you should go and see your GP.”

Gout is often known as one of the most painful types of inflammatory arthritis.

“There aren’t many conditions that give you 
such a tenderness of the joint,” says Dr Silman. “Some 
people can’t even bear to 
have the bed sheet on their feet.”

Because of the pain, chances are, somebody experiencing an acute attack will be unable to put on a sock, let alone attempt to walk and carry on with their day as normal.

So the fact that Dave Myers was able to wow the audience, if not the judges, with his paso doble while suffering from gout is remarkable.

But it’s not just a condition that affects men.

“Women do get gout, but it’s far more common in men, though we’re not sure why,” says Dr Silman. “On average, in terms of people presenting to their GP with gout, it’s about four times as many men than women. The gap narrows as you get older,” Silman adds.

For men particularly though, it can strike at any age.

For further information on gout visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org has various fact sheets about the condition.

Condition caused by build-up of acid

Uric acid – a compound produced by the body’s own cells when breaking down food – is the key component in gout. Uric acid is usually flushed out of the body but if excess levels build up in the blood, sodium urate crystals can form, particularly in the joint cartilage, which can trigger gout.

The link with diet and over-indulging has come about because foods like red meat, especially liver and kidneys, and some seafood and shellfish, as well as beer, have high quantities of purine – which is responsible for uric acid production in the body. However diet is rarely the whole story.

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