Menopause And Gout

February 2, 2010

Menopause marks the time in a woman's life when her hormones change their functions and some of them cease functioning altogether. Estrogen levels drop to one tenth of what they were before menopause, affecting the function of some of the major organs of the body. With the shift comes susceptibility to various conditions and illnesses that may have been of little or no concern in prior years. One such condition is gout.

What Is Gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid crystals build up in the joints. The joints become inflamed, swollen and painful, sometimes to the point of becoming crippling. Uric acid is a by-product of the breakdown of purines in the body. Naturally produced in the body and also obtained through certain foods, purines are part of the chemical structure of nucleic acids, the backbone of DNA-a molecule that holds human genes. They end up as a waste product of the metabolism and are usually filtered out of the blood by the kidneys and excreted in the urine.

When a person has gout, the filtering process malfunctions. The kidneys are either overwhelmed with overproduction of uric acid, or are unable to filter it out of the body adequately. As the level of uric acid in the blood increases, crystals are formed that deposit in the joints. In many people with gout, the first joint that is usually affected is the big toe.

An Efficient System

Women have an advantage over men when it comes to the filtering system in their bodies. A woman's kidneys tend to be more efficient at clearing excess uric acid from the blood stream. The functioning of the kidneys is facilitated by the production of estrogen, the female sex hormone. Higher levels of estrogen stimulate the kidneys to excrete uric acid in the urine. With the onset of menopause, estrogen levels suddenly drop and as a result, the kidneys become less effective at dealing with excess uric acid. The result of this process can be gout.

Contributors To Gout

Use of hormone replacement therapy as a treatment for menopause has become passe for many women. Opting out of using it, women are developing gout at younger ages. Still, most women don't develop gout until they are well past menopause. Gout rates increase decade by decade and the findings are that most people who are over the age of 80 and are new gout sufferers, are women. The likelihood of a woman developing gout is increased by several risk factors. Obesity, high blood pressure, and use of diuretics all contribute to gout risk for women.

Why Women Get Gout

Women who develop gout usually do so because their kidneys are not handling uric acid excretion adequately. They also experience initial symptoms in joints other than the big toe, often joints in the upper body, and tend to have more deposits (tophi) around their joints. Women also tend to have other issues at the same time as gout. Hypertension, heart disease, and renal failure are commonly found in women with gout.

Women who maintain good health by eating a well-balanced diet that is low in purine producing foods and exercising can, in most cases, stop the problem before it begins.

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