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This article is part of the supplement: Gout and Hyperuricemia

Highly Accessed Open Badges Review

A concise history of gout and hyperuricemia and their treatment

George Nuki1* and Peter A Simkin2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Edinburgh Rheumatic Diseases Unit, Scotland, UK

2 Division of Rheumatology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8(Suppl 1):S1  doi:10.1186/ar1906

Published: 12 April 2006


First identified by the Egyptians in 2640 BC, podagra (acute gout occurring in the first metatarsophalangeal joint) was later recognized by Hippocrates in the fifth century BC, who referred to it as 'the unwalkable disease'. The term is derived from the Latin word gutta (or 'drop'), and referred to the prevailing medieval belief that an excess of one of the four 'humors' – which in equilibrium were thought to maintain health – would, under certain circumstances, 'drop' or flow into a joint, causing pain and inflammation. Throughout history, gout has been associated with rich foods and excessive alcohol consumption. Because it is clearly associated with a lifestyle that, at least in the past, could only be afforded by the affluent, gout has been referred to as the 'disease of kings'. Although there is evidence that colchicine, an alkaloid derived from the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), was used as a powerful purgative in ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago, its first use as a selective and specific treatment for gout is attributed to the Byzantine Christian physician Alexander of Tralles in the sixth century AD. Uricosuric agents were first used at the end of the 19th century. In the modern era, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the drugs of choice for treating acute gout. Perhaps the most important historical advance in the treatment of hyperuricemia was the development of xanthine oxidase inhibitors, which are effective in reducing plasma and urinary urate levels and have been shown to reverse the development of tophaceous deposits.