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Researchers followed more than 35,000 gout sufferers in the United Kingdom and found that women with gout were 71 percent more likely to develop diabetes compared with people without gout. For men, the increased risk was 22 percent.
"Gout seems to be contributing to the risk of diabetes independently of other diabetes risk factors, such as obesity," said lead researcher Dr. Hyon Choi, from the division of rheumatology, allergy, and immunology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Gout causes intense pain and swelling in single joints, most often the feet, especially the joint at the base of the big toe. More than 3 million Americans suffer from the condition, men more often than women, according to the American College of Rheumatology.
People with gout have excess uric acid in the body, which forms needle-like crystals that lodge in the joints.
Diabetes, characterized by high blood sugar levels, can lead to kidney damage, heart disease and limb amputations over time. Clarifying its relationship to gout "is essential," the study authors said.
However, while the current research suggests gout raises the risk of diabetes, the study can't prove it. "The association is clearly there, but why that is so isn't known," Choi said.
Choi speculates that ongoing, low-level inflammation from gout may increase the risk for diabetes. Other risk factors shared by both diseases -- high cholesterol and high blood pressure, for example -- might also increase the risk, he said.
The researchers used data from health records on adult patients from January 1995 to May 2010. They zeroed in on about 35,000 people with newly diagnosed gout and compared them with more than 137,000 people without the condition.
To isolate the relationship between gout and diabetes, the investigators took age, sex and especially weight into account, because obesity is a risk factor for both gout and type 2 diabetes.
The study, published online Oct. 2 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, found that almost three-quarters of the new cases of gout were among men with an average age of 61. Among women with new cases of gout, the average age was 68.
The odds of developing diabetes alongside gout was much more likely for women, the researchers found. Choi said the absolute risk of a woman with gout developing diabetes is about 5 percent, and for a man it's about 3 percent.
People with gout tended to drink more alcohol, saw their doctor more often, had more medical problems, and took steroids and diuretics more often than those who did not have gout, the study authors noted.
Treatments for gout are available and are tailored individually.
Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said this study may make doctors more aware of the association between gout and diabetes.
"The question for doctors is whether people with gout should be tested for diabetes and people with diabetes tested for gout," Mezitis said.
"What this study tells us is that if the patient has gout, you have to be thinking that the patient is at increased risk for diabetes," he said. This may be independent of other factors normally associated with diabetes, such as obesity and high blood pressure, he added.
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SOURCES: Hyon Choi, M.D., division of rheumatology, allergy, and immunology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Spyros Mezitis, M.D., endocrinologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Oct. 2, 2014, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, online