Alarming increase in acid levels linked to illnesses such as gout in Irish population

Study found levels of uric acid associated with heart disease and stroke increased by 21 per cent over 9 years

 Professor Austin Stack of UL said what the study  found was “astonishing”.  Photograph: Alan Place / Press 22

Professor Austin Stack of UL said what the study found was “astonishing”. Photograph: Alan Place / Press 22


Levels of an acid found in humans, which is linked to a host of serious illnesses, has increased at an “alarming” rate in the Irish population, a study by University of Limerick researchers has found.

Described as the largest study of its kind in Ireland, it found one in four have elevated levels of uric acid in their blood, and that “levels here increased at an alarming rate from 2006 to 2014”.

Uric acid is a by-product of the body’s metabolism and is associated with conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disease, and gout.

Increasing obesity, consumption of fructose in sugary drinks, and alcohol may be contributory factors, it found.

The study of over 128,000 patients in the Irish health system by researchers at UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School which was supported by the Health Research Board, found uric acid levels increased by 21 per cent over a nine year period, with increases seen in all age groups from young adults to the elderly.

The researchers used data from the National Kidney Disease Surveillance System to track the levels of uric acid in patients from 2006 to 2014 in the midwest and northwest regions.

“What we found was astonishing,” said Professor Austin Stack, principal investigator for the UL Kidney Health Consortium.

“In 2006 just over one fifth of all patients (20.1 per cent) were estimated to have elevated uric acid levels in their blood. By 2014, this number had increased to almost one quarter (24.5 per cent).”

While this was not a national random sample, it included a very large group of patients from all demographics within the health system.

“There is increasing evidence to suggest that high uric acid levels may be a causal factor in kidney disease,” added Prof Stack.

“Each year in Ireland around 400 people start on dialysis for kidney failure. However, kidney disease is detected in around 15 per cent of all patients entering the Irish health system.”

Uric acid is also a cause of gout, a common arthritis when uric acid crystals build up in the joints.

“In addition, and possibly even more concerning, high levels of uric acid are directly linked to the development of several major diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes.

“Rising blood levels of uric acid mean that more patients are at risk of these serious conditions,” Prof Stack said.

Previous studies in the UK, US and in Europe have identified similar marked increases.