(BPT) - After so many months of social distancing due to the global pandemic, summer travel is top of mind. People with chronic health conditions, like gout, may not be thinking ahead of their unique needs when on vacation. Whether going on a weekend road trip or a multi-week cross-country adventure, proper planning can help ensure an enjoyable trip without a gout flare.
"Gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis and is caused by an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints," explained Dr. N. Lawrence Edwards, a rheumatologist and chairman of the Gout Education Society. "Today, more than 9.2 million Americans are living with gout and the numbers are increasing. Gout is extremely painful and tied to several other serious health conditions. While it cannot be cured, it can be treated — so a timely diagnosis and ongoing, proper management is important."
Edwards urges people with gout to follow important lifestyle steps when travelling:
Visit your doctor every six months
When you're first diagnosed with gout, you will see your doctor or rheumatologist more frequently to figure out the best way for you to manage the condition. Once you have an effective plan, make sure to visit your doctor every six months to check serum uric acid levels and come prepared with questions and concerns to have a more meaningful conversation. Scheduling an appointment before any out of town travel is a good way to help ensure you're healthy and have an enjoyable trip.
"Elevated uric acid in the body is the root cause of gout, so it's critical for anyone with gout to take steps to ensure that levels are at a healthy 6.0 mg/dL or below," says Edwards.
Adhere to medications
Taking daily uric acid-lowering medications, as prescribed, is an important part of managing gout for most people. When traveling, make sure to pack enough of your prescription medications — and medications in the event you have a flare — for the entire length of your trip. It's best to pack prescriptions in their original containers and document the names and dosage for your records, such as taking a picture of the labels with your phone. Always store medications in a safe location, being mindful that temperature or humidity may impact some prescriptions.
"Gout is a sneaky disease and often requires ongoing medication that will need to be taken for life," says Edwards. "Some people may be tempted to stop taking a medication if their condition appears under control or they believe skipping it for a vacation won't matter. This can be a big mistake. Plan ahead and take medications as prescribed by your doctor."
Follow a healthy diet
While not a substitute for prescribed medications, a healthy diet can help you better manage your gout. If you know your triggers, avoid or enjoy them only in moderation while on vacation. If you're eating out and not sure about ingredients or serving size, ask the server or chef. Some common gout trigger foods include alcohol (especially beer or grain liquors), large amounts of high-purine foods like red meat, organ meat and shellfish, and high-fructose corn syrup. Crash diets or sudden dietary changes can also trigger flares.
"A healthy diet is key to overall wellness. Many people with gout feel their best when following the DASH or Mediterranean diets," says Edwards. "As long as your uric acid levels are under control, while on vacation, you can celebrate and enjoy your favorite foods if you do it in moderation and continue your prescribed treatment regimen. Instead of the 12-ounce steak, though, opt for a 4-ounce option and some steamed vegetables."
Proper hydration is always important, especially on hot days or when you're active and sweating. Adults should engage in moderate-intensity physical activities for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plan vacation activities like walking briskly, swimming or bicycling. Because regular exercise is important even when traveling, remember that water is the best thing you can drink — so always pack a bottle and keep it filled wherever you go.
"When the body gets dehydrated it can raise the uric acid in the blood, which can cause gout flares," says Edwards. "It's also bad for the kidneys and can lead to kidney stones. On vacation, you may be drinking differently than you do at home — but remember that certain gout-triggering drinks, like beer and soft drinks, should only be enjoyed sparingly. Water is best."
The Gout Education Society is a nonprofit organization of health care professionals dedicated to raising awareness of gout arthritis. The Gout Education Society offers complimentary educational resources for both the public and medical professionals. Learn more at gouteducation.org.