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What Awaits Gout Patients at the ER

Patients experiencing a gout attack may get more than they bargained for at the emergency room.

A new study reveals that nearly 30% of patients who seek emergency room treatment for a gout attack are prescribed opioids to manage their pain.  Researchers discovered that:  

  • Most patients left the ER with a prescription for eight days of opioids
  • About one-fourth were written prescriptions for 14 days or more, longer than the duration of a typical gout attack  
  • 14% of patients prescribed opioids had a known history of substance abuse.

Researchers of the retrospective cohort study called opioid prescriptions a “large burden” on people with gout and urged better coordination between emergency room physicians and outpatient clinicians.

The data reinforce the value of proactively managing gout, which is caused by uric acid build-up in the body’s joints.  Though not curable, gout can be managed through uric-acid lowering medication, in combination with diet and lifestyle modifications.  Opioids, by comparison, carry the risk of addiction. They also fail to address patients’ inflammation, which is a source of gout pain.  The study’s findings suggest the need for greater awareness among ER health care providers of non-opioid treatments for acute gout.  

The data also underscore an important reality.  Patients, both those whose gout resists treatment with traditional medication and those whose ER visit may mark their first experience with the disease, should seek help from a gout specialist.   

Longstanding stigma around the disease, as well as stubborn myths about “curing” gout with home remedies like cherry juice, can prevent patients from pursuing proper medical care.  But as the new study shows, proactively managing the condition can not only limit pain – it can also limit exposure to potentially addictive pain medication.