Researchers at the University of Nottingham studied the entire population of Taiwan, where gout is most prevalent in the world. From the four million people whose families they could identify, there were one million individuals with physician-diagnosed gout. The team found that the risk for gout was higher in people with a family history of the disease.
Dr Chang-Fu Kuo, principal investigator of the project, said: 'Our results confirm the clinical belief that gout strongly clusters within families'.
'In Taiwan the risk of an individual with any first-degree relative suffering from gout is approximately twice that of the normal population'.
'The risk increases with the number of the first-degree relatives affected. Having a twin brother with gout carries an eight-fold risk, whereas having a parent or offspring with gout has a two-fold risk', Dr Chang added.
Gout is a painful inflammatory disease, mainly associated with the accumulation and deposition of uric acid or monosodium urate crystals in joints. Scientists have long known that alcohol hinders excretion of uric acid into urine, and that certain diets contribute to the severity of its formation.
Dr Michael Doherty, head of the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre at the University of Nottingham and co-author of the study, said: 'We found evidence for both shared environmental factors and genetic factors in predisposing to gout within families, with environmental factors contributing a higher proportional risk'.
'Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in gout pathogenesis. Having an affected family member increases the risk but part of the risk comes from modifiable shared environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle'.
The study was published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.