The risk of developing gout is increased both in adults who gained weight throughout adulthood and in those who have been obese but at a stable weight for the entirety of their adult lives, according to a new study published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy.
Gout is a form of arthritis in which high blood levels of uric acid lead to deposits of crystals around joints, leading to swelling, redness and often intense pain. It most commonly affects the big toe, but can also affect your heels, ankles, knees, elbows, wrists or fingers. If left untreated, gout can lead to hard deposits in affected areas that cause permanent joint damage, and it can also cause kidney damage and kidney stones. Diabetes and gout share some common risk factors, including obesity, lack of physical activity and insulin resistance.
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In the latest study, researchers compared weight change patterns throughout adulthood with the risk of developing gout using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2007 and 2014. In a sample of 11,079 adults who were between the ages of 40 and 74 at the time of their “midlife” weight measurement (defined as 10 years before enrolling in NHANES), 320 (2.9%) went on to develop gout in the 10-year follow-up period. But the researchers found that certain groups of people had a higher or lower risk of gout based on how their body weight changed, or didn’t change, over time. The highest risk was seen in adults who had been obese but had a stable weight for their entire adult life (since age 25), who were 84% more likely to develop gout than adults in the group who were never obese. But gaining weight during adulthood while ending up obese was also linked to a higher risk of gout, with this group seeing a 65% higher risk. Not enough people in the study lost weight during adulthood to make a statistically significant determination of gout risk for this group.
Certain health conditions were closely linked to patterns of weight change among study participants. As noted in an article at MedPage Today, While the rate of diabetes was 6.8% in the group of stable non-obese people, it was 25.9% in the group of adults who maintained stable obesity throughout adulthood and 24.6% among those who gained weight. Hypertension (high blood pressure) was present in 33.2% of those who never were obese, 56.5% of those with stable obesity, and 57.1% of those who gained weight.
The researchers calculated that based on the increased risk of gout linked to weight gain, if participants who gained weight had instead lost weight to become non-obese during the follow-up period, an estimated 3.2% of cases of gout could have been avoided. But if the entire study population had maintained a healthy body weight, the researchers estimated that 32.9% of gout cases could have been avoided over 10 years.
“These findings have highlighted that maintaining non-obese weight and weight loss across adulthood is essential for the prevention and treatment of gout in adult life,” the researchers wrote. “Our hypothetical scenarios indicated beneficial effects of positive weight intervention change.” More research is needed, they noted, to find out if weight-loss intervention programs carry long-term gout prevention benefits, and how any beneficial programs might be targeted toward people who are at increased risk for gout.
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