Gout: A Wake-Up Call For Change

Many of us in Hawaii know at least one person suffering with gout. An estimated 8.3 million Americans are affected by the rheumatic disease, which is the most common inflammatory arthritis among men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Its cause, signs and symptoms are varied, which presents a challenge when it comes to education and prevention. However, doctors generally agree that risk factors for gout include being overweight, having high blood pressure, high alcohol intake or eating a diet rich in meat and seafood.

Well-Being Hawaii sat down with HMSA Engagement Solutions Manager Darin Jitchaku, who agreed to share his experiences with the condition. The 37-year-old was diagnosed with gout in 2013. While others in his situation may be discouraged, he saw it as a much-needed catalyst for change.

Well-Being Hawaii: What symptoms prompted you that something was wrong?
DJ: I woke up one morning and had terrible pain in my ankle. It felt like a bad sprain. I was able to limp around in the morning but by the time I got home, I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. My daughter walked into my foot a couple times – so painful.

Well-Being Hawaii: Did you suspect it was gout prior to seeing your physician?
DJ: I had done some research online. I suspected that it was gout, but my symptoms didn’t seem to be the classic symptoms. Some things that were the same: pain shows up overnight, affects a single joint, very painful. Some things that were different: I did not have any swelling, I did not have any family history of gout, I did not have any redness, and I did not have any burning feeling in my ankle. When my doctor examined me, even she commented that I don’t have a family history of gout – she also treats both my parents – my ankle wasn’t inflamed, and while my foot felt a little warmer, it wasn’t very hot or red.

Well-Being Hawaii: What type of tests were administered to confirm it was gout?
DJ: I had some blood drawn that could determine my uric acid level. Elevated uric acid leads to gout.

Well-Being Hawaii: Were you and your physician able to pinpoint the cause of your attack?
DJ: Usually gout is brought on by things like genetics, liver or kidney abnormalities, or high purine intake. Eating foods high in purine elevate uric acid levels and high uric acid levels cause gout. Normally, the body can regulate that, but for some folks whose livers and/or kidneys have an issue, that doesn’t happen like it’s supposed to. One of the worst things for gout is beer. And I think that’s what did me in. Coming home everyday and having a couple beers – seemed like I was enjoying it in moderation. It’s not like I’m coming home every night and drinking a six-pack.

Well-Being Hawaii: What was the treatment plan that you and your physician discussed?
DJ: I told my doctor that I don’t want to take daily medication right now. I’m 35 and want the opportunity to make the lifestyle change necessary to live a healthy, normal life. She stressed that in the old days, treatment of gout meant drastic diet restrictions. She stressed to me a balanced diet, being mindful of portion sizes, and staying hydrated. I’ve also started blending fruits and vegetables and drinking these smoothies daily – lots of kale, carrots, beets, apple, oranges, mango, spinach, cherries, frozen berries.

Well-Being Hawaii: What types of results have you experienced since making the lifestyle change?
DJ: I’ve lost some weight from avoiding animal-based protein. I’m not a vegan, I just don’t eat meat like it’s going out of business.

Well-Being Hawaii: Overall, is this a welcomed change in your life?
DJ: I believe that this is a blessing in disguise. My doctor told me about five years ago that my blood pressure is a little on the high side. Nothing major (as a 30 year old), but if I don’t lose weight, quit smoking, and get active, it could lead to problems. I’ve quit smoking in that time, but that’s it. I needed to do more. Looking back, it was almost like I accepted that having high BP is part of growing old. That’s a bad attitude. This was the shakeup I needed to make the changes in my life that are necessary.

Well-Being Hawaii: How has your family reacted to all of this?
DJ: My family is very supportive. My mom is pre-diabetic, too, so we’ve been trying to eat healthier anyway. This is another great motivator to living a healthy lifestyle. It has to be a way of life.

Well-Being Hawaii: Has this experience changed your outlook on life?
DJ: Absolutely. We can’t take our health for granted. When we were waiting for the blood test results, my wife told me afterwards that she was really worried. When we found out it was gout, she said she was relieved it wasn’t something really serious like cancer. We talked about the changes to our diet we need to make. We talked about how it costs more to eat healthy than a fast-food burger, but it’s still cheaper than a stay in the hospital. So true, and such a great perspective on it.

I also had discussed my lifestyle change with a committed vegan and HMSA coworker Natasha Richards. She was so supportive and encouraging. She has chosen veganism because it’s healthier. Her family thought that the change was drastic. Natasha’s perspective: Isn’t open heart surgery more drastic?

For more information on gout, visit:
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention