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William J. Dagendesh

While out shopping for groceries I happened upon a gentleman grimacing from a painful bout with gout.

“Do you have any idea how painful this (CENSORED) is?” he asked as he struggled to his feet and rested on his crutches. Indeed, I do, having experienced my first gout attack more than 20 years ago. What I learned is that gout is a painful inflammation of the joints caused by excess uric acid in the blood.

Gout earned its bad-boy reputation centuries ago when the disease attacked persons who gorged on rich gourmet food and drink. Folks called it “The King’s Disease” because it delivered a royal pain to the victims’ elbow, feet and knee joints. Medical experts today know not all gout patients eat and drink excessively.

An equal opportunity employer, gout can affect anyone, although it is more common among people over 35. I experienced my first bout with gout in 1997 while serving as the public affairs officer for the U.S. Naval Air Facility in El Centro, Calif. One morning I awoke to searing pain in my left big toe I attributed to excessive jogging. By day’s end I struggled to stand. Sigh!

A visit to the doctor revealed the truth. “There’s no doubt, you got gout,” the doctor said, laughing as he caressed my swollen digit while reciting the popular children’s nursery rhyme, “This Little Piggy Went to Market.”

According to the doctor, a person is a candidate for gout when their kidneys lose some of its ability to flush away excess uric acid. In fact, most uric acid originates not so much from the food you eat, but from your body’s ability to over-produce the nasty stuff.

He compared the uric acid crystals to stirring sugar in a glass of water. Some of the sugar dissolves while remaining crystals pile up at the bottom of the glass. When this happens the joint swells, becomes red hot and tender to the touch.

Gout can produce a pressure so intense that the weight of a bedsheet resting on the swollen joint can cause pain and render the sufferer bedridden for days. Been there, done that.

My experience didn’t prevent colleagues from having fun at my expense, though. “Congrats, you’re a fraternity brother now,” the personnel officer said, laughing. The administration officer gave me a desk plaque sporting the inscription, “Got Gout?”

Also, obesity can hamper your body’s ability to handle gout. Doctors recommend losing weight and doing so gradually since crash diets can raise your uric acid level. The good news is that physical activity, particularly exercise, helps reduce weight, improves circulation, helps the heart pump excess uric acid out of your system and greatly reduces your chance of contracting this condition.

Prescription drugs, such as Indomethacin, provide fast relief for some patients such as yours truly. The acidity in apple cider vinegar helps alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water and drink it two to three times a day. It has been more than five years since my last attack so I must be doing something right.

I have no doubt that drinking lots of H2O, staying active and maintaining a healthy diet will help prevent a bout with gout.

William J. Dagendesh is an author, writer and retired U.S. Navy photojournalist and editor. He has lived in southern Colorado 20 years. Contact William with comments or ideas for his column at

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