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If seeing is believing, then it’s no wonder gout is so misunderstood. Film and television often misrepresent the condition, a new study found. 

Of the movies and shows reviewed, almost 60% portrayed gout as humorous and half played it as embarrassing. It is neither. In fact, gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting 9 million Americans. It’s serious, extremely painful and entirely treatable.

But the entertainment industry’s misrepresentation perpetuates stereotypes about the condition.

Gout’s Cause

On screen, overindulgence in food and alcohol was the most common cause of gout. It was referenced as the culprit in 61% of depictions. In comparison, biological causes of gout were mentioned only 12% of the time.

Although certain foods and some medications can contribute to a buildup of uric acid in the body, which leads to gout, the disease is often caused by other risk factors like family history or chronic kidney disease. Even so, people who have gout are often stigmatized or made to feel embarrassed.

Management Strategies

Dietary changes and short-term pain relief were the most common management strategies the media depicted – even though lifestyle changes alone are not typically enough to manage gout. By contrast, medications to lower uric acid levels, which are very effective, were almost never mentioned.

Media depictions also encouraged people to tough out debilitating joint pain and inflammation, hallmark signs of a gout attack. The suggestion flies in the face of medical advice. In reality, health care providers recommend timely treatment because uncontrolled gout can impact one’s heart, kidneys and other organs. 

Hollywood often brings laughter to the country’s living rooms. But gout is no joke. It’s time for the entertainment industry to step away from storylines and media portrayals that treat the debilitating condition as comedy.

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