Gout Too Often Treated Only in Emergency Department

Kerry Dooley Young

November 04, 2022

Only about one in three patients seen in the emergency department of an academic health system for acute gout had a follow-up visit that addressed this condition, Lesley Jackson, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, reported at the annual research symposium of the Gout, Hyperuricemia, and Crystal Associated Disease Network (G-CAN).

Dr Lesley Jackson

Jackson presented research done on patients seen within her university's health system, looking at 72 patients seen in the ED between September 2021 and February 2022. Medications prescribed at discharge from the ED included corticosteroids (46 patients, or 64%), opioids (45 patients, 63%), NSAIDs (31 patients, 43%), and colchicine (23 patients, 32%).

Only 26 patients, or about 36%, had a subsequent outpatient visit in the UAB health system addressing gout, she said. Of 33 patients with any outpatient follow-up visit within the UAB system, 21 were within 1 month after the index ED visit, followed by 3 more prior to 3 months, and 9 more after 3 months.

The limitations of the study includes its collection of data from a single institution. But the results highlight the need for improved quality of care for gout, with too many people being treated for this condition primarily in the ED, she said.

In an email exchange arranged by the Arthritis Foundation, Herbert S. B. Baraf, MD, said he agreed that patients too often limit their treatment for gout to seeking care for acute attacks in the ED.

Dr Herbert Baraf

Because of competing demands, physicians working there are more to take a "Band-Aid" approach and not impress upon patients that gout is a lifelong condition that needs follow-up and monitoring, said Baraf, clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University, Washington, and an associate clinical professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He retired from private practice in 2022.

"This problem is akin to the patient who has a hip fracture due to osteoporosis who gets a surgical repair but is never referred for osteoporotic management," wrote Baraf, who is a former board member of the Arthritis Foundation.

He suggested viewing gout as a form of arthritis that has two components.

"The first, that which brings the patient to seek medical care, is the often exquisitely painful attack of pain and swelling in a joint or joints that comes on acutely," he wrote. "Calming these attacks are the focus of the patient and the doctor, who does the evaluation as relief of pain and inflammation is the most pressing task at hand."

But equally important is the second element, addressing the cause of these flare ups of arthritis, he wrote. Elevated uric acid leads to crystalline deposits of urate in the joints, particularly in the feet, ankles, knees, and hands. Over time, these deposits generate seemingly random flare ups of acute joint pain in one or more of these areas.

"Thus, when a patient presents to an emergency room with a first or second attack of gout, pain relief is the primary focus of the visit," Baraf wrote. "But if over time that is the only focus, and the elevation of serum uric acid is not addressed, deposits will continue to mount and flare ups will occur with increasing frequency and severity."

This study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Jackson has no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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