Gout used to be the preserve of rich aristocrats living on a diet of 10 or 12-course meals and drinking copious amounts of port.
The most famous sufferer was Henry VIII, but the list includes Lawrence Olivier and Charles Dickens.
That picture is now way out of date. Rich diets are common, and over a million people in Britain have gout after a frightening rise in cases over the past decade.
The increase has been blamed on alcohol, red meat, junk food and obesity.
Gout is a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the blood, which crystallises in joints and around organs. Uric acid levels will soon rise if you eat foods such as beef, pork, lamb and seafood, and have sugary drinks, beer and spirits.
Diuretics, commonly used to treat high blood pressure, increase the risk of gout, as does the anticholesterol drug niacin. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to the condition.
Dr Weiya Zhang, from the rheumatology department at Nottingham City Hospital, who researches the condition, says it’s wrong to joke about the disease.
“It can be fatal. We shouldn’t make jokes about it when it’s painful and has long-term consequences.”
He looked at the records of 4.6 million patients and found that 2.5% had been diagnosed with gout, a rise of 64% since 1997.
The number of new cases each year rose by 30% during that time, yet only one in three was given an inexpensive drug that can lower uric acid levels.
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, comments: “A severe attack of gout is probably the most painful form of severe arthritis there is – much worse than rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
“It’s not a trivial condition, yet its reputation as a ‘joke’ disease that only affects florid-faced country squires has meant that it’s not always been taken as seriously as it should have been.
“Too many patients are on a standard dose of urate-lowering drugs instead of a dose that is matched to their particular needs – and this needs to change.”
This means patients aren’t being treated as individuals.
Judi Rhys, chief executive of Arthritis Care, says: “People are embarrassed to seek help, as gout has historically been a bit of a laughing matter.”