Our Shared Struggle with Gout

By Micah Yu, MD

As a high school athlete, I was always pushing protein.  I didn’t pay attention to balanced nutrition.  I just ate whatever I could to down 200 grams of protein each day.

After a few months, I developed the most classic signs of gout: my big toe was swollen, red and it hurt more than I could imagine.  The disease came on like a freight train in the middle of the night; it felt like the train ran over just my big toe.  

Despite the agony, I, like many people who have gout, thought I could take care of it myself.  I took ibuprofen and limped to school.  This cycle repeated itself every couple months through the rest of high school and into college.  

Finally, I realized taking pain medication and sleeping it off wasn’t really working.  In fact, it wasn’t working at all.  After dropping a course because I missed so many classes, I told my dad, a family physician, about my problem.  He prescribed me a uric-acid lowering medication, which helps keep gout flares at bay.

As I transitioned from college to medical school, my dad repeatedly urged me to see a gout specialist.  I was hesitant, but my dad persisted.  I finally agreed.  The experience was life changing.  It also reinforced for me the power of helping people through medicine.

I saw several rheumatologists as I went through medical school.  With every visit, I was better able to link what they were telling me with how I felt and what I was learning in the classroom.  In addition to keeping up with my medication, I also changed my lifestyle and began using a plant-based diet to help keep me healthy and my disease in control.   

Now, I share these same messages with my patients.  

Medicine is the most important tool for managing gout.  But it shouldn’t be the only tool patients use.  I encourage my patients to also consider fitness and lifestyle to complement their medications.  This multi-pronged approach can also improve other co-occurring conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease.

Taking medications, being physically active, watching what you eat and living a healthy lifestyle are all necessary to manage gout.  Doing any of them is hard.  Doing them all, and consistently, is even more challenging.  

“I understand,” I tell my patients.  “I was there, too.”  I let my patients know that once you have gout, you have it forever.  But it doesn’t have to be a burden forever.  

I like to think my story gives patients hope.  I know my gout experience has made me a better clinician.  My patients and I share a common diagnosis and I hope, too, we will share in our long-term success managing gout.

Micah Yu, MD, practices in Southern California.  He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine and is a member of the Alliance for Gout Awareness.


Categorized in: