Monday, June 29, 2009

Gout

Gout was as common among aristocracy as the plague was among the poor. Through the years, kings and nobles alike fell prone to this crippling disease and it mentioned numerous times in texts of the ages. But what exactly is gout and does it still exist?

Gout was known as a rich man's disease for the simple reason that it came about from eating plenty of rich food. That is why Henry VIII suffered from it for years. I will quote WebMD here, "Your chances of getting gout are higher if you are overweight, drink too much alcohol, or eat too much meat and fish that are high in chemicals called purines." Too much alcohol and meat? That doesn't sound like eighteenth century aristocracy at all! But all sarcasm aside, alcohol and meats were the main staples of western diets throughout the centuries.

All those purines in the food would cause extra uric acid in the blood, which is fine in small quantities but really bad, in large because it crystallizes in the joints. Ouch! In most cases this begins at the big toe (as Gillray displayed in his artistic interpretation of gout) and can move up the leg. As you can imagine walking is very painful; gout is put into the same category as arthritis.

Nowadays when a doctor diagnosed gout, you can get a shot and take some painkillers. Back in the Georgian era the common diagnosis was to take a trip to Bath for some of the "healing waters" which did little except maybe relax you. Unless there was some corticosteroids in that tap room water you drank, you were out of luck!

8 comments:

  1. My father-in-law prides himself for being afflicted by the King's disease...except of course when he's in excruciating pain from way too much food!

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  2. Oh dear! The nickname(s) sounds much better than the actual disease

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  3. Hehe more Gillray! Gout sounds incredibly painful. It's really too bad that they didn't figure out what was causing it. Then again, I guess even if they knew it was all that drinking causing the gout, they still wouldn't have stopped. What I don't understand is it always seems to be men who have/had gout.

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  4. Yes, I forgot to put that in actually! Women can contract gout but men are more susceptible to it.

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  5. Oh thank you. Gout was one of those niggling questions that I just never understood. ;-)

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  6. What a fabulous image! I can almost feel him gnawing on my foot. Gotta love Gillray.

    I have a friend who has attacks of gout (he even had one while in Bath! I tried not to laugh too hard.) and it's very painful. Maybe I'll send him this image....

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  7. As always, Heather, the illustration is spot on. My dad had gout and now I know how he felt.

    There was an article on gout recently in the NYT...thanks to our fatty diets gout is making a comeback in contemporary society. How about that for "progress"!

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  8. Really?! Well I guess I can't be too surprised. Now I feel better about resisting fast food when I was running errands yesterday!

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