Once called the “disease of kings,” gout has long been associated with portly men – especially those who could afford to overindulge in rich foods and alcohol. But gout in women is not uncommon, especially after menopause. Vicky King, 46, of Alpharetta, Georgia – a thin, petite, active woman – was dumbfounded when she was diagnosed with gout. Women of her age were not typical candidates, she thought.

“For the past three years, I lived under a diagnosis of OA; I never imagined gout was the true cause of my pain,” says King. “But one night I had such burning, stabbing pain, and my foot swelled to the point where I could not walk. On that night I was ready to accept any diagnosis as long as they could fix the problem.”

During menopause, which occurs at age 51 on average, a woman’s body drastically cuts its production of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen may help the kidneys excrete uric acid, so after menopause, a woman’s uric acid level begins to increase. It usually takes several years for the uric acid level to reach the point where crystals can form. By about age 60, the number of cases of gout in women and men are about equal; after age 80, more women than men have gout. 

Your doctor can determine whether your body makes too much uric acid (an “overproducer”) or doesn’t excrete uric acid fast enough (an “underexcreter”) in diagnosing gout. Women who are overproducers can take allopurinol (Zyloprim) to decrease their bodies’ uric acid production. Underexcreters can take probenecid (Benemid, Probalan) to help their bodies eliminate uric acid. 

In addition to medication, you can control how much uric acid your body produces by avoiding foods high in purines, which increase the uric acid level when digested and metabolized. Such off-limit foods include alcohol, bacon, haddock, liver, scallops, turkey, veal and venison. Go light on moderate-purine foods, such as asparagus, beef, chicken, ham, mushrooms and shellfish.