BACKGROUND: Many gout comorbidities (e.g., hypertension) are correlated with serum urate. In this investigation, we identified risk factors (e.g., systolic blood pressure [SBP]), that (1) are associated with incident gout, (2) have effects on gout risk that cannot be fully explained by correlated differences in serum urate, and (3) may modulate the relationship between gout and serum urate. METHODS: Using data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, we estimated the unadjusted associations between gout and risk factors by calculating ORs and using chi-square tests. The adjusted associations were analyzed using logistic regression by sequentially adding (1) one risk factor at a time or (2) all risk factors, to a baseline model that includes serum urate only. Stepwise selection was used to select main effects. Two-way interactions of variables from the main effects model were also analyzed. RESULTS: Average gout incidence was 2.7 per 1000 people per year. Serum urate was highly associated with incident gout, with odd ratios of 3.16 [95% CI 2.11, 4.76] and 25.9 [95% CI 17.2, 38.4] for moderately high (6-8 mg/dl) and high serum urate (> 8 mg/dl), relative to normal serum urate (< 6 mg/dl), respectively. Ethnicity and SBP were independently and additively associated with gout after accounting for serum urate levels. No significant interactions were found between serum urate and ethnicity or SBP. CONCLUSIONS: Ethnicity and hypertension are predictive of gout risk, and the associations cannot be fully explained by serum urate. For serum urate levels near the crystallization threshold (6-8 mg/dl) African Americans and people with hypertension are at two to three times greater risk for developing gout. The gout risk for this group appears to increase before the onset of severe hyperuricemia.