Acute attacks of gout and long-term treatment of gout and hyperuricemia require different approaches. Treatment usually involves medication. After the first attack, some health care providers advise their patients to keep a supply of medications on hand so that self-medication can begin at the first sign of symptoms of a second acute attack. There are also specific treatments for conditions associated with gout, including uric acid nephropathy and uric acid nephrolithiasis.
Many patients do not require medications. During the period between gout attacks, patients are advised to avoid foods high in purines and to maintain a healthy weight. Patients should also avoid alcohol and reduce any stress.
Drug treatments for acute attacks of gout are aimed at relieving pain and reducing inflammation. They should be started as early as possible.
Medications used in the treatment of gout include:
Powerful forms of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the drugs of choice for an acute attack in younger, healthy patients with no serious health problems, particularly problems that affect the kidneys, liver, or heart.
There are dozens of NSAIDs available. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include:
Prescription NSAIDs include:
Indomethacin (Indocin) is typically the first choice of treatment for patients who have no medical conditions that would interfere with its use. Usually 2 - 7 days of high-dose indomethacin is enough to treat a gout attack. The first dose of indomethacin usually begins to act against the pain and inflammation within 24 hours and often much sooner.
Ibuprofen, naproxen, sulindac, or other NSAIDs are good alternatives, particularly for elderly patients who might experience confusion or bizarre sensations with indomethacin. (Aspirin is an NSAID, but is associated with a higher risk for gout and should be avoided.)
Regular use of even over-the-counter NSAIDs can cause certain health problems, such as:
NSAIDs can cause kidney problems, especially in the elderly and those with kidney disease. When caught early enough, these problems generally resolve if the drugs are stopped. Any sudden weight gain or swelling should be reported to a physician. Anyone with kidney disease should avoid these drugs.
Patients with diabetes who take hypoglycemics by mouth may need to adjust their medication dosage if they also take NSAIDs, because of possible harmful interactions between these classes of drugs.
Long-term use of NSAIDs is a common cause of ulcers. NSAID-related bleeding and stomach problems may be responsible for over 100,000 hospital admissions and over 15,000 deaths each year. Because there are usually no gastrointestinal symptoms from NSAIDs until bleeding begins, health care providers cannot predict which patients taking these drugs will develop bleeding.
Those at high risk for NSAID-related bleeding include the elderly, anyone with a history of an ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, patients with serious heart conditions, those who drink too much alcohol, and persons on certain medications, such anticoagulants (blood thinners), corticosteroids, or bisphosphonates (drugs used for osteoporosis).
Preventing NSAID-Related Ulcers. Switching to alternative pain relievers is the first step in preventing or healing ulcers caused by NSAIDs. If people cannot change drugs, they should use the lowest NSAID dose possible.
In addition, medications are available that may help prevent ulcers in people who need to take NSAIDs. Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the first drug of choice for preventing ulcers in high-risk individuals. They have been shown to reduce NSAID-ulcer rates by as much as 80% compared with no treatment. Types of these drugs include omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (AcipHex ), and pantoprazole (Protonix). Prevacid is the first proton-pump inhibitor specifically approved for protecting against ulcers in chronic NSAID users.
Arthrotec is a combination of an ulcer-protective drug called misoprostol and the NSAID diclofenac. It too may reduce the risk for gastrointestinal bleeding. The drug can cause miscarriages, however, and should not be taken by women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
Colchicine is a derivative of the autumn crocus (also called the meadow saffron). It has been used against gout attacks for centuries. It is highly effective, although it is no longer the first drug of choice because of its frequent, unpleasant, and sometimes very serious side effects.
Colchicine may be given to a healthy adult within 48 hours of an attack. It should not be used by elderly patients or those with kidney, liver, or bone marrow disorders. It can also affect fertility and should not be used during pregnancy. The drug can cause gastrointestinal side effects at high dose, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Low doses do not pose as high a risk for gastrointestinal symptoms, and can prevent further attacks, including attacks in patients who are starting anti-hyperuricemic therapies.
Colchicine may be taken by mouth or given by an intravenous line. Those who take it by mouth need doses every hour until either symptoms improve or side effects develop. Improvement should be seen by the tenth dose. It usually eliminates the pain of an acute attack within 48 hours. The intravenous route has some serious side effects, however, and poses an increased risk for injury to the kidney, liver, central nervous system, and bone marrow.
The antibiotic erythromycin, or H2 blockers such as famotidine (Pepcid AC), cimetidine (Tagamet), or ranitidine (Zantac) may intensify the gastrointestinal side effects of colchicine.
Warning Note: Overdose of colchicine can be dangerous, and there have even been reports of death. The drug may also suppress blood cell production and cause nerve and muscular injury in certain people, sometimes even in those not taking high doses.
Corticosteroids may be used in patients who cannot tolerate NSAIDs and they may be particularly beneficial for elderly patients. Injections into an affected joint provide effective relief for many patients, but this is not useful for patients who have multiple affected joints. Steroids taken by mouth may be used for patients who cannot take NSAIDs or colchicine and who have gout in more than one joint. Corticosteroids include triamcinolone and prednisone.
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