“Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood. The acid can form needle-like crystals in a joint and cause sudden, severe episodes of pain, tenderness, redness, warmth and swelling” Arthritis Foundation.
That’s the more professional description of gout, if you know anyone who has suffered with it, they’ll probably describe it differently; every other word being a swear and all of which describe something that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. People, who have experienced both, compare gout to be similar or worse pain than a broken leg or childbirth.
Thankfully, I can only tell you about my experience with gout…
I first experienced gout when I was in my early-twenties, much younger than the typical age range for people who get it (30-50 in men and women might only get it post-menopause). At that time, I had every reason to suspect it was diet related – I wasn’t eating well, a lot of food and drink high in purines.
When the body breaks down purines, and the kidneys are no longer capable of flushing that acid away, it can get stored in joints around your body. Sometimes gout can occur chronically (regularly) and others more acute (non-regularly). The pain usually lasts anywhere between a few days to a week. It might never come back and generally it can be prevented by lifestyle changes.
After nearly a decade, I was shocked to wake up one night in complete agony, suffering another gout attack. What had I done wrong? I certainly hadn’t eaten anything you would typically associate with gout – a diet high in game meat, organ meat, shellfish, beer and lots of sugar is usually to blame. In fact, my diet actually contained foods that were likely to prevent gout – fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I had also recently switched to a high fat, low carb diet. As you can imagine, being unable to identify why I was in such pain, was hard to understand.
After a few days of agony, high doses of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs and a huge lack of sleep, I was starting to feel a bit better. I was still riding through the pain, although it is almost impossible to put a shoe on. Once I did get the shoe on, the pain was more bearable and I only had to stop once in a while to readjust the shoe.
I even managed to complete a century ride, I was feeling much better and I was confident that I was on the mend… until that night when I was awoken in agony again, back to square one…
At this point I was already at the ten day maximum that most people experience gout for. I went to the local urgent care and the doctor prescribed me a course of steroids and told me to rest – which I did.
Five days later and I’m feeling much better, back to training light and finishing the course of steroids as I ease back into it. Around a week passes and, while the pain is manageable and I’m no longer being awoken at night, it is still noticeably there. After another long ride I am sadly awoken the next night in complete agony. Square one again…
Straight to urgent care in the morning and this time I’m given a much bigger dose of steroids with a longer taper – around three weeks of meds. I’m also advised that I can still train while on this course, just to be very careful about it. After some discussion with the doctor, she informed me that they see a higher rate of athletes, runners mainly, who experience gout. She goes on to tell me that, while there’s no identifiable cause, it’s certainly not diet related (in these cases). She mentioned repetitive motion and dehydration – I can agree with both and the latter rings a bell as I remember being dehydrated on both rides.
Steroids are a fairly nasty, yet fairly necessary drug to be prescribed. A lot of the side-effects can be as bad as the reason for taking them – almost!! I was glad to be done with them and gout free – nearly six weeks since the initial attack. I am left with some joint deformation and very mild discomfort – nothing that causes any issues to daily life. I’m just left hoping it doesn’t return.
Of course, none of the following advice should be used without supervision or recommendation by a qualified physician, but as I couldn’t find any worthwhile advice on cycling or training while suffering with gout and I know how much despair one can actually feel with this, I thought I’d add my thoughts here:
- See a doctor right away and discuss medication – ensure you understand what the medication is, does and how to use it (especially if you get steroids).
- Ensure your diet and lifestyle is cleaner than clean – research common food causes and ensure the blog is up to date, here are a few foods that might be making it worse (again check that this list remains accurate, as time passes, so does our understanding of nutrition):
- Organ meat.
- Game meat (examples are pheasant, veal and venison).
- Fish (herring, trout, mackerel and more).
- Other seafood (such as crab and shrimp).
- Sugary beverages (fruit juices, sodas and probably your energy drink!).
- Added sugar (honey, agave, high fructose corn syrup and probably your energy snacks!).
- Yeast (such as nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast and marmite).
- Talk to your doctor about training and if you choose to train, ensure you are always adequately hydrated, stop more often to refill bottles if needed!!
- If you can rest, do so. If you need to do something, perhaps find a sport you can do temporarily that isn’t bearing on your effected joint.
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