Healthy Living

Study Observes Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Gout

A study found that sleep apnea patients are at a higher risk for gout than non-sleep apnea patients. Learn more.

Study Observes Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Gout

It may seem a little unrelated, but an article printed in the Health Day Reporter stated that those with sleep apnea might have higher risks of developing gout. Researchers studied data on 16,000 people who were diagnosed with sleep apnea to see if any of them had gout. Medical investigators also surveyed about 63,000 people without sleep apnea to check their rates of gout.

The interesting conclusion? Sleep apnea patients had a 4.9 percent risk of developing gout while 2.6 percent of the non-apnea people did not acquire gout. They have a 42 percent higher risk of developing gout than those without it.

The study goes on to say that this risk comes one to two years after a diagnosis. These really odd statistics claim that gout is a higher risk for patients who have a normal BMI, than those who are overweight. 

Researchers do caution that this study doesn’t prove sleep apnea causes gout, it just shows that there is an association.

What Is Gout?

Gout is caused by uric acid buildup in the body, and is also a form of arthritis. It is painful and causes red, hot and swollen/stiff joints. Excessive amounts of uric acid turn into crystals that lead to severe inflammation and pain in the ankle, feet, and knees.

Gout symptoms and signs occur suddenly and often at night. These symptoms include:

  • Concentrated joint pain. Gout often causes pain and swelling to the large joint of your big toe, but it can happen in any joint of the body. Your ankles knees, elbows, wrists, and fingers are also commonly affected. The pain is most severe within the first four to 12 hours.
  • Lingering discomfort continues even after the severe pain subsides. You may experience joint discomfort that lasts from a few days to a few weeks. If you have attacks later, they will last longer and affect more joints.
  • Inflammation and redness cause affected joints to become swollen, tender, red and warm.
  • Limited range of motion. As your gout progress, it becomes excruciating to move your joints.

Another study in Arthritis & Rheumatology matches the claims that those with sleep apnea have a higher risk of developing gout. Health professionals, again, must examine the possibility of gout, regardless of their BMI. This study also found that those with a normal BMI have a higher risk than patients with a higher BMI.

It is believed that low levels of oxygen caused by sleep apnea leads to overproduction of uric acid. Uric acid causes gout.

Study co-leader, Milica Blagojevic-Bucknall, said, "Sleep apnea is commonly treated with continuous positive airways pressure -- or CPAP -- therapy. Since CPAP treatment corrects low oxygen levels, it might also be expected to reduce uric acid levels. Low uric levels could possibly reduce the risk of developing gout or treat existing gout."


The Daily Mail goes on to suggest that snoring doubles a person’ risk of developing gout. A survey of about 8,000 people indicated that those who have obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, are likely to develop the painful joint condition.

Gout was typically associated with heavy people who indulge in alcohol and rich foods. However, a study in the UK found that OSA patients, even with healthy BMI rates, are twice as likely to develop gout as their peers who do not have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea happens when your muscles and soft tissues in your throat relax. Soft tissues and muscles, fall and block the airways. Your oxygen access is restricted, and this often exaggerates the production of uric acid.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea Could Help with Gout

Sleep apnea is usually treated with CPAP therapy, which involves correcting low oxygen levels and reduce uric levels. Lower uric acid levels could reduce the risk of gout, or it may treat existing gout.

CPAP therapy uses a mask, usually made from medically-endorsed plastic, that fits over your nose and mouth and is connected to a device that blows air consistently into the back of your throat. Get to know your sleep apnea gear so you will use it. 

Your CPAP machine controls airflow with a tube and a mask that goes over your nose and mouth. It may also have a nasal piece that helps you breathe.

Think of a CPAP mask like wearing something new. “It’s like wearing shoes. You buy a new pair of shoes, they’re initially going to chafe or hurt you. Or a new pair of glasses -- you become very conscious of them,” says Sairam Parthasarathy, MD. “But after a while, it becomes second nature. You put it on without thinking.”

Years ago CPAP machines were loud and clunky, and some made metallic sounds. Today’s machines are quieter, much less noticeable and smaller. Many brands are almost silent.

CPAP machines have different air pressure settings. Pressures vary according to whether you’re inhaling or exhaling. Your sleep doctor will be with you as you figure out the level that is best for you.

CPP machines used to dry out your nose and mouth. Now machines have humidifiers to fix that problem. There are even some CPAP machines that heat the moist air to make it more comfortable.

If you are stuffed up from allergies, a cold and sinus problem, or a physical issue, you may have trouble using a CPAP machine. However, when you treat your congestion, the problem usually goes away. Nose problems, on the other hand, problems may require surgery.

“A lot of people have nasal obstruction or congestion, and they don’t even know it,” Parthasarathy says. Treatment for those problems makes CPAP work much better for them.

Your CPAP device is the best way to treat obstructive sleep apnea. You are better off using the CPAP then trying to suffer through a night without it.

Just remember that aside from poor sleep and daytime drowsiness, if you don’t treat your sleep apnea, you are at high risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, and gout.