Hospitalisations for gout - "the rich man's affliction" - have soared by 80 per cent in the past decade, new research reveals.
Experts blame the massive rise on eating and drinking to excess, plus heredity.
University of Otago scientists conducted the first countrywide decade-long study into the painful illness. Their findings show a 5.5 per cent increase a year from 1999 to 2009. During that period 10,241 people presented with the disease.
Alarmingly, there was a further 34,318 admissions for serious conditions complicated by gout, including high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney problems and diabetes.
"A lot of people don't realise how serious gout can be," said Dunedin-based geneticist Tony Merriman, co-author of the study. "It is now emerging that complications connected with gout are worse than first thought."
A type of arthritis, gout is the development of crystals of uric acid in and around joints, commonly the big toe, causing agonising pain.
The New Zealand figures are particularly high because Maori and Pacific Island communities are more susceptible to it. But it is now developing into "a serious health problem" among the wider population, Merriman explained. "Too much beer or sugary drinks are particularly bad for bringing on attacks."
Actor George Henare, 64, has suffered from gout for about 20 years. He said it was first triggered by over-indulging and he now monitored what he ate and drank.