What It’s Really Like to Live with Gout
A woman shares what it's really like to live with gout after dealing with foot pain for over 40 years and how gout treatment has helped her.
Courtesy Steve Reed, Positive Images Photography
Lex Leonard’s feet had bothered her since her 20s. As a former junior high school teacher—and then social worker—Leonard spent a lot of time on her feet. When the pain spread to her ankles, knees, and hands, she knew something was seriously wrong. Finally, in her late 50s, Leonard got a diagnosis—gout. Although it took time, the now 68-year-old has found a way to live with her condition and its vicious symptoms.
How intensified pain led to a gout diagnosis
When the pain first intensified, Leonard took action: “I went to a podiatrist and insisted that I had broken a bone in my foot. After x-rays, he diagnosed me with gout.” This form of arthritis is triggered by the buildup of uric acid (a waste product normally excreted in urine), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the kidneys struggle to process the uric acid, high levels can lead to the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints, and the pain can be sudden and severe. Gout affects 8.3 million Americans, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Also, it’s on the rise due to the obesity epidemic and increasing numbers of people with high blood pressure—two conditions that stress the kidneys, according to a study in Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Trying different gout treatments
Leonard’s podiatrist prescribed a drug called colchicine (Colcrys) that helps reduce swelling and the crystals. “I took it three times a day—but the pain just kept getting worse.” During one three-week flareup of gout, Leonard had to go to the emergency room. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t sleep—even laying under a sheet at night felt too painful,” says Leonard.
When Leonard went to see her primary care physician about some lab results, her doctor noted Leonard’s poor kidney function and referred her to a nephrologist. After taking a look at Leonard’s hands, the specialist recommended a medication called pegloticase (Krystexxa), a drug that would lower her uric acid levels. “At that point, my hands were red and swollen, and I couldn’t bend my fingers.”
Courtesy Lex Leonard
Type 2 diabetes and diet affect gout risk
Leonard also has type 2 diabetes, another condition that raises gout risk. Diet can also play a role: Gout tends to strike people who eat foods with higher levels of purines (compounds found in food that raise uric acid level), such as steak, organ meats, and seafood; drinking sugary drinks and alcohol (especially beer) can also raise uric acid. Along with obesity and high blood pressure, other risk factors can include certain medications, a family history, recent trauma, getting older, and being male.
People with gout can help reduce their gout symptoms by eating a low-purine diet.
Managing gout and living an active lifestyle
Leonard’s medication infusions quickly lowered her uric acid levels and began dissolving uric acid crystals in the body. “I noticed a drastic difference after my first infusion series. My uric acid level went from 11 to .02.” (A normal level is 2.4 to 6). The drug made a dramatic difference in her activity levels—before treatment, just getting around the house could be agony. “I can now do yoga and go bowling. I’ve never been more active than I am today.” (Don’t miss the natural gout remedies for pain and swelling you can try.)
Leonard calls gout an “insidious disease”: “There is no cure, but you can manage it. I wish I had caught mine earlier—I think I would be in much better shape now if I had.”
However, treatment is helping her manage her joint pain. She is delighted her grandchildren have noticed the difference in her physical ability. “My grandchildren come over and say, ‘Grandma, you can walk again.'” (Next, find out the things you need to know about arthritis.)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Gout”
- National Kidney Foundation: “Quick Facts: Gout and Chronic Kidney Disease”
- Arthritis & Rheumatology: “Prevalence of gout and hyperuricemia in the US general population: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007–2008”
- Colcrys: “Colcrys safety profile & side effects”
- Krystexxa: “Krystexxa”