LONDON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – The prevalence of gout is increasing and to prevent an epidemic, rheumatologists and other physicians need to diagnose and treat cases promptly and better explain the treatment process to their patients, according to a Swedish expert on the disease.

“It’s a disease for which we understand the mechanisms, we know how to diagnose it, and we have had good treatments for the last 50 years,” said Dr. Lennart Jacobsson, professor of rheumatology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “Despite that, we don’t treat it properly. It’s difficult to understand why that is the case, why there is such a lack of knowledge and such a lack of willingness to pursue treatment.”

Gout is the most common nondegenerative inflammatory joint disease, exemplified by a prevalence of 0.9%-2.5% in Europe and 3.9% in the United States. The incidence is increasing along with factors such as the aging population, as well as lifestyle changes such as rising body mass index and physical inactivity, Dr. Jacobsson said at the European Congress of Rheumatology.

“It’s the same story everywhere,” he said. “Gout is underdiagnosed, it’s diagnosed late, and once it’s diagnosed people don’t get treated with urate-lowering therapy, which aims at the heart of the disease. If they are treated, treatment often is discontinued, which we think is largely due to lack of education and information to patients.”

Urate crystals can build up over as much as a decade before a person experiences a first gout attack, Dr. Jacobsson said. “It can take 3-5 years of effective treatment to get rid of those masses within the body. Over that time, especially at the beginning, patients may still have gout attacks, which they often interpret as side effects of the medication or a misinterpretation that it doesn’t work because they’re not properly informed that medication needs to be a long-term treatment.”

Close to 10% of men aged 70-80 years have gout, he said, but it’s still unclear how many of those have mild, moderate, or severe disease. It’s also not well studied how gout itself can affect health-related quality of life and costs to society. “You can easily imagine that the costs are pretty large, however, and they will increase,” he said.

Gout is interrelated with several metabolic syndrome disorders such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, Dr. Jacobsson said: “If you have renal disease, you have higher uric acid levels and can more easily get gout, but from having high uric acid levels you may also get decreased renal function, so it’s sort of circular. The same is true of gout and hypertension.”

Once considered a disease of the wealthy, Dr. Jacobsson said, gout has recently been shown to be associated with lower income and socioeconomic class, as is the case for many other chronic diseases. There are still large opportunities for improvements regarding early detection and the initiation of urate-lowering therapy, he said, as well as counseling patients on lifestyle improvements.

“We know what to do, we have the tools, and we should start using them more effectively,” he said. “It’s really very simple, but that message has to get through. It’s an increasing problem, and it’s bad not just for the joints but also for quality of life and comorbidities.”

Dr. Jacobsson reported no relevant financial disclosures.


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