Uric acid is a waste product you produce when you digest certain foods. While uric acid naturally occurs in the blood, sometimes your levels might become too high (hyperuricemia) — this is more common in men than women. High uric acid levels can lead to a type of arthritis called gout. If you have gout, tracking your uric acid levels can help you monitor your joint and kidney health. A healthy lifestyle can help you manage your uric acid levels.

Medically reviewed by Dr Nicole Harris, MBChB MRCGP

What is uric acid?

Uric acid is a natural waste product that your body produces when digesting foods containing purines. Purines are chemical compounds found in many foods — including red meat, some seafood, and refined sugars. 

Usually, your kidneys filter out uric acid and it passes out in your urine. But consistently high uric acid levels can build up in your blood and cause gout. Gout is a type of arthritis that leads to painful swelling — due to crystals forming in your joints. Gout most commonly affects your hands, feet, wrists, elbows, and knees. 

High uric acid levels are also associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, kidney disease, and liver disease.

What causes high uric acid levels?

Your diet and lifestyle can lead to high uric acid levels. The most common causes include:

  • a purine-rich diet — like organ meat, red meat, some seafood, and refined sugars
  • drinking too much alcohol — particularly beer
  • carrying excess weight
  • dehydration

Some medical conditions and their associated medications can also lead to high uric acid levels, like:

Not everyone with high uric acid levels will have symptoms. Usually, symptoms only tend to develop once it leads to gout.

What are the symptoms of high uric acid?

The most common symptoms of gout include:

  • joint redness and swelling — your joints might feel warm to touch
  • joint pain and stiffness
  • visible changes in the shape of your joints 

High uric acid levels are also associated with kidney stones, of which the symptoms include:

  • pain and aching in your lower back, abdomen, or groin
  • foul-smelling urine that’s painful to pass
  • feeling nauseous  

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your healthcare professional for treatment.

How to lower uric acid levels

A low-purine diet can help you lower your uric acid levels. Low-purine foods include: 

  • dairy — milk, cheese, yoghurt, and butter
  • eggs
  • whole grains — like oats, brown rice, and whole grain bread 
  • fruit — particularly cherries
  • vegetables — research shows that eating high-purine vegetables are safe as they're not linked to gout attacks

Foods that are high in purine include:

  • red meat
  • organ meat — like liver and kidney
  • some kinds of seafood — like prawns, mussels, and clams
  • refined sugars — like biscuits and fizzy drinks

Other lifestyle factors can also help lower your levels your uric acid levels and reduce your risk of a gout attack. These include regular exercise, limiting alcohol, not smoking, and drinking lots of water. These can also help you manage your weight — carrying excess weight can make it harder for your kidneys to get rid of uric acid.

Sometimes, your doctor might recommend urate-lowering therapy (ULT) — medication that lowers your uric acid levels. 

What are the symptoms of low uric acid levels?

If your uric acid levels are low, you might not have any symptoms. But, you might find you need to urinate more often. If this is the case, it's important to drink more water to prevent dehydration. 

Low uric acid levels usually aren’t something to worry about. But it’s worth speaking to your healthcare professional for advice.

How to test your uric acid levels

A blood test can tell you your uric acid levels. By measuring your uric acid levels regularly, you can monitor your joint and kidney health and reduce your risk of gout flare-ups

You can get your uric acid levels tested with a healthcare professional or using a home uric acid blood test.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with gout, you should wait 4-6 weeks after your previous attack before doing a uric acid test as your levels could be falsely raised.

References

National Health Service. Gout. Retrieved 23 March 2021 from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gout/ 

UK Gout Society. All about gout and diet. Retrieved 23 March 2021 from http://www.ukgoutsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/goutsociety-allaboutgoutanddiet-2020.pdf 

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Olivia Hunt

Written by Olivia Hunt

24th Jun 2021 • 4 min read