Until now, little was known about the relationship between the two conditions, the study team writes in an article online Oct. 19 in Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Obesity plays an important role in both sleep apnea and gout, but sleep apnea still increased the risk for gout even when weight was accounted for, said lead author Dr. Yuqing Zhang of Boston University Clinical Epidemiology Research and Training Unit.
The researchers used data on almost 10,000 people with a new diagnosis of sleep apnea from a UK database and compared them to more than 40,000 people of similar sex, age, birth year and body composition but without sleep apnea.
Over a one-year period, there were 270 cases of gout, 76 in the sleep apnea group and 194 in the larger comparison group. Gout was diagnosed at an average age of 60.
Gout was almost twice as common in the sleep apnea group as in the comparison group, according to the analysis.
Even in thin people, the risk of gout was increased by 80%, Dr. Zhang said.
The next step is to test whether treating sleep apnea also reduces the risk for gout, which seems likely, he said.
“Some studies show that if you get treatment, your uric acid may go down,” Dr. Zhang said.
It takes years for uric acid crystals to accumulate in the joints and lead to an eventual gout flare, so sleep apnea may not “cause” the gout, but may create a more ideal environment for a flare-up, Dr. Robert Thomas Keenan of Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., who was not part of the new study, told Reuters Health.
“Gout is the most common inflammatory arthritis in the western world,” he said. “Sleep apnea and gout risks can be reduced in many people by losing weight if they are overweight, eating healthy, and indulging in alcohol and red meats in moderation.”
The authors reported no funding or disclosures.