Newspaper articles often depict gout as a self-inflicted condition that is socially embarrassing and the focus of humour, a new analysis has found.
The study, published in Arthritis Care & Research, also revealed that dietary solutions were over-emphasized compared with effective medication.
Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs when crystals of sodium urate form inside and around the joints. It causes sudden attacks of severe pain and swelling.
The condition is triggered by a build-up of uric acid in the blood.
After analysing articles focusing on gout which appeared in the 21 highest circulation newspapers in the United Kingdom and United States from August 2010 to August 2015, the researchers said that social embarrassment due to gout was reported in 27 of the 114 articles (23.7%), and jokes or humorous references to the condition were reported in 30 articles (26.3%). These often highlighted causal beliefs related to lifestyle and drinking.
Overindulgence in the diet was most commonly reported as the cause of gout (featuring in 72 of the 114 articles). The range of dietary advice for gout management was extensive, with advice to decrease intake of 44 different items and increase intake of 17.
“Research in the last few decades has demonstrated that gout has a strong biological basis, with the kidney playing a central role, and effective long-term treatment is available,” said Professor Nicola Dalbeth, senior author of the study. “The social embarrassment and self-blame discourse that occurs around gout may have important consequences, making people with gout less likely to seek help to avoid being the focus of jokes and social shaming.”
The researchers concluded that initiatives challenging popular perceptions of gout may play an important role in changing public understanding about the disease, ultimately increasing uptake of effective urate-lowering therapy and reducing reliance on unproven strategies.