Hyperuricemia: What to know

Hyperuricemia occurs when the blood stream produces too much uric acid. It does not cause symptoms but may result in conditions like gout or kidney stones.

The body produces uric acid as a by-product of purine breaking down, a chemical which is present in many foods.

In general, the kidneys filter uric acid out of the bloodstream. Hyperuricemia happens when uric acid levels are too high for proper functioning of the kidneys.

Hyperuricemia will lead to more serious conditions over time, such as gout or stones in the kidneys. Such conditions require medical attention immediately.

Eating a lower diet in high purine foods can reduce the risk of occurring this progression.

Read on to find out more about hyperuricemia signs, its causes and how to treat it.

Symptoms

A man having gout
Hyperuricemia can lead to the development of other conditions, such as gout.

Hyperuricemia is not itself causing the symptoms, but can cause uric acid crystals to form over time.

Those crystals will subsequently lead to the development of other conditions, such as:

Gout

People with gout will feel sudden joint pain that may intensify over 8–12 hour periods.

After a few days the sharp pain may diminish but continue for up to 10 days. A gout attack can come back weeks or months later, or never again.

A gout episode may also result from a trigger, such as an injury or disease.

Kidney stones

In other cases crystals of uric acid can form stones of the kidneys. Symptoms can include, depending on the size of the kidney stone:

  • severe lower back pain
  • blood in urine
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • foul smelling urine
  • stomach aches

After the stones develop, symptoms tend to build up quickly. Most kidney stones, however, are small, and move without causing symptoms.

Other substances within the body, such as calcium oxalate or struvite, can also form kidney stones.

Causes

Hyperuricemia is when blood is containing too much uric acid. It occurs because a person can not excrete enough uric acid through his or her kidneys, or they have too much of it in their body.

This buildup is often the product of a diet high in purine, a chemical that is present in many foods and beverages.

When during digestion the body breaks down purine it releases uric acid as a byproduct.

From that metabolism, uric acid enters the bloodstream. The kidneys then filter it out of the blood so it can be excreted by the body through urine.

When someone eats a high purine diet, their kidneys might not be able to filter uric acid out of the blood fast enough. This causes high levels of uric acid which leads to hyperuricemia.

Examples of high purine foods and drinks include:

  • alcoholic drinks
  • some types of fish or seafood, such as sardines
  • shellfish, such as mussels
  • some meats, such as bacon
  • organ meats, such as liver and kidneys

Other causes of hyperuricemia include errors in purine metabolism and kidney disease.

Treatment

Hyperuricemia may be treated by dietary changes.

Using less purine-rich foods and drinks will minimize uric acid in the blood. This decrease makes the kidneys flush out uric acid again more efficiently.

Low purine foods and drinks to consume instead include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • dairy products
  • whole grains
  • lean proteins
  • nuts

Additional treatment may be necessary when hyperuricemia leads to gout or kidney stones.

Gout

Doctors can prescribe drugs to treat gout episodes. A doctor can prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs which are non-steroidal, such as ibuprofen. It reduces inflammation and pain.

Stronger drugs include corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which reduces inflammation, too.

Colchicine is another drug used to treat gout inflammation.

Kidney stones

Procedure for kidney stones depends on how large they are. Smaller stones in the kidney often go by themselves. It is necessary to drink plenty of fluids while the stones move and take pain medications.

It may require removal of larger kidney stones. Doctors may use a variety of methods to remove stones in the kidneys or help break down stones in the body.

For example, shock wave lithotripsy involves the blasting of a sound wave in the kidney stones. This procedure reduces them to smaller pieces, thereby making them easier to pass through.

When to see a doctor

There are no signs of hyperuricemia which makes it difficult to know if there is a problem.

If hyperuricemia leads to gout or kidney stones, urgent consultation with a doctor is necessary. The symptoms of both conditions are easy to develop and often cause severe pain.

Summary

Hyperuricemia happens when blood levels of uric acid are too high.

This is usually the result of taking a purine-rich diet. The kidneys are unable to flush out uric acid quickly enough, which causes bloodstream build-up.

High levels of uric acid can cause gout or kidney stones in the bloodstream. Both conditions have a quick onset and can lead to severe pain.

Hyperuricemia may be treated by reducing the dietary high purine foods. Eating fewer shellfish, bacon or organ meats for example.

If the hyperuricemia progresses to gout or kidney stones, further treatment for these conditions will be needed.

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