In America, heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults, and strokes (another cardiovascular disease) are one of the top five causes of death.
While certain lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of cardiovascular events, genetics also plays a large role in determining your risk for heart attacks, heart disease and stroke. This also holds true with certain health conditions. A new study shows gout, a common form of arthritis, may be associated with a higher risk of both stroke and heart attack.
Gout flare-ups are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke for some time after the flare-up happens, according to U.K.-based research published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA journal.
The study followed 62,574 people with gout and found that “patients who suffered a heart attack or stroke were twice as likely to have had a gout flare in the 60 days prior to the [cardiovascular] event, and one and a half times more likely to have a gout flare in the preceding 61-120 days.”
This means if you experience a gout flare-up, there’s an increased risk of cardiovascular events in the four months following the occurrence.
“People with gout tend to have more cardiovascular risk factors,” according to the research. Additionally, the study stated gout ultimately leads to severe inflammation that manifests “as joint pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness that often lasts for one to two weeks. These episodes, called gout flares, often recur. Inflammation is also a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.”
Currently, about 8.3 million Americans have gout, and that number is only expected to grow in the coming years as rates of obesity rise and Baby Boomers get older. In other words, many Americans now have even more reason to monitor their heart health.
So, what can you do to protect your heart health if you have gout? And how can you reduce your risk of developing the condition? An expert shared below a few tips to help.
What is gout and who is prone to it?
Gout is “a disease that causes inflammation of the joints [and] it is the most common [type of] inflammatory arthritis,” according to Dr. Ethan Craig, an assistant professor of rheumatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
At its core, “gout is caused by an immune reaction to monosodium urate crystals in the joints,” he said. These crystals occur when you have elevated levels of uric acid in the blood.
Gout flare-ups (which are when the joints become painful, red or swollen commonly in the big toe, knee and ankle) happen when something occasionally triggers the immune system to notice the crystals in the joints, Craig noted. Flare-ups vary in severity but can become chronic and even lead to the destruction of the joints.
Can you reduce your risk of developing gout?
Unfortunately, a large component of gout risk is genetic, Craig said. “I emphasize this because there is this misconception that gout happens entirely because of dietary choices or lifestyle choices, but in most cases, this is not true,” he added.
There are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing gout. Craig noted that weight loss, moderating alcohol consumption and following a Mediterranean diet are all ways to lower uric acid levels. It’s important to note that whether these lifestyle choices prevent gout altogether is unclear.
If you have gout, there are ways to manage it
This all may feel a little grim, but there is good news: Gout is highly treatable, Craig said.
Acute flare-ups are treated with an anti-inflammatory drug or steroid, he explained. And with long-term treatment, doctors address the underlying cause — which is high uric acid levels — through lifestyle changes or medication.
If you have gout, you must stay up to date with your treatments. Gout is a lifelong condition that requires ongoing and constant management; it can also become dangerous and even more painful when left untreated.
Additionally, there are methods to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke
If you suffer from gout and are nervous about the heightened risk of cardiovascular events, you can make a few simple lifestyle changes to improve your heart health while continuing to manage your gout.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet with lots of fruit, veggies and lean protein, not smoking and regular exercise are all ways to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Walking for 21-minutes a day also cuts your risk of heart disease by 30%, according to Harvard Health. And Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the sports cardiology center at Cleveland Clinic, previously told HuffPost that walking can benefit everyone whether they have increased cardiovascular risk or not.
Taking a walk can help control things like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The activity can also prevent heart attacks and strokes, Singh said.
While gout flare-ups may mean an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, there are ways to manage both your gout and heart health to help prevent these cardiovascular events from happening.