By Christopher Parker, DO
Imagine an excruciating disease, one that leaves you bouncing from one health care provider to another with no definite diagnosis – often landing in the ER, where you’re offered opioids instead of answers. Sound familiar?
If so, you’re not alone. More than 9 million other Americans deal with this common and debilitating form of arthritis known as gout.
I’ve heard about the struggle to understand and manage this disease for decades from my own patients. Now new research confirms just how common and painful the experience can be.
Finding the Right Doctor
According to a national poll of gout patients, more than half visited multiple health care providers without getting clear answers about gout. Why? Well, when patients visit a primary care provider for joint pain, they may not receive the lab work or imaging required to confirm a gout diagnosis. Instead, they may be misdiagnosed with a foot injury or perhaps a different form of arthritis. As a result, they do not receive the medication needed to treat their gout.
Perhaps that’s why, as the national polling data show, many patients spend years suffering with the debilitating pain of gout flares. The poll revealed that:
- One-third of patients struggle for two to five years before seeing a gout specialist,
- About one in five patients struggle for more than six years before seeing a specialist.
With each year that passes, patients’ condition worsens. Untreated gout can cause erosion and destruction to the affected joints. Uncontrolled gout can also harm the kidneys and other parts of the body. And the longer patients go without getting proper treatment, the more pain they’re forced to endure when excruciating gout flares arise.
The Emergency Room
It’s little wonder, then, that gout patients frequently visit the emergency room when the pain becomes unbearable. But survey data show this can make a bad situation worse. Among patients who visited an emergency room for gout pain, 74% are prescribed an opioid. While opioids may help patients manage pain in the moment, they do not treat the underlying cause of gout or the inflammation that comes from a gout flare. As America’s opioid epidemic has shown us all, opioid exposure can open the door to misuse, addiction and other serious health risks.
If this situation sounds awful, that’s because it is.
The Emotional Impact of Gout
While patients spend years without proper treatment, their entire livelihood suffers. The intense pain of gout flares may cause them to miss work, creating financial hardship. They’re also more likely to miss social events or family gatherings, which could lead to feelings of hopelessness or depression. Survey data revealed:
- Gout pain leads 58% of patients to experience anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
- More than half of respondents say they have been unable to enjoy their life because of gout pain. When patients are left underdiagnosed or untreated, they are left to reap the health, economic and social consequences of gout.
But perhaps the most painful reality of all is that gout doesn’t have to be like this. Gout is a common disease with a number of proven, effective treatments.
Gout Can be Managed
The most exciting takeaway from the new polling data for me is that 81% of participants say their gout is now under control after seeing a specialist. With the help of the right health care provider, patients can find a treatment regimen that works to get their gout, and their lives, back under control. That message of hope should resonate with people all over the country who struggle with gout.
Far from a life sentence of pain, gout is treatable and manageable. I hope to see more gout patients, like those in the survey, use education and growing awareness to move past the pain and reclaim their health and their day-to-day lives.