Overview and Facts
Gout is one of many different types of arthritis. It is a painful and complex form that causes sudden attacks of pain, stiffness or swelling in a joint, often at the base of the big toe. These attacks can eventually do great harm to joints and other tissues if the gout arthritis is left untreated. Gout can affect anyone, but it most common in men. Postmenopausal women are also more likely to get gout arthritis.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common sign of gout is a sudden, acute attack of pain. These attacks often happen during sleep and a sharp pain is felt in the big toe, foot, ankle or knee. Attacks can last over a few days or it could be many weeks before the pain subsides. The pain is typically most severe the first 12 hours after symptoms begin, and after the intense pain goes away, there may still be some lingering discomfort in the joint areas affected. If gout is not treated, these attacks can happen more often over time and the gout pain can become more severe.
Symptoms of gout arthritis include:
- Intense pain surrounding joints, particularly big toe, feet, hands, ankles and knees
Causes and Diagnosis
Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, a condition known as hyperuricemia. Having too much uric acid isn’t always harmful and people with high levels in their blood may not develop gout. But, as levels of uric acid increase, the risk of having gout does increase. When these levels do get too high, it is possible that uric acid may start to form hard crystals in your joints, which can cause painful flare-ups characteristics of gout. Most uric acid is produced naturally by the body and the rest comes from your diet, so maintaining a healthy weight and following a healthy diet are important.
Sometimes, gout attacks can appear out of nowhere, but other times, they are triggered. There are certain lifestyle triggers and other risk factors that can cause gout and its painful joint attacks. These include:
- Joint injury
- Being overweight
- Eating too much of certain foods (such as meat and fish)
- Crash diets
- Cancer treatments
Gout is typically diagnosed by the presence of uric acid crystals. Along with performing a physical exam, a doctor will also extract a sample of fluid from the joints to look for signs of uric acid crystals. A doctor may also take a blood sample to measure the levels of uric acid in the blood.
Tests and Treatment Options
Luckily, gout and its painful flare-ups can be managed, treated and often times even prevented. A doctor can provide a shot of corticosteroids to stop a gout attack. If you start treatment at the initial onset of an attack, gout relief often begins as early as 24 hours later.
During a gout attack, taking an anti-inflammatory medicine can ease joint pain. If you do take medicine, be careful to not take aspirin, as it can raise the level of uric acid in the blood and thus make the gout symptoms worse.
In order to prevent gout attacks, a prescription medication can reduce the uric acid in the blood. However, if a doctor prescribes one of these medications, it is important to take it as directed as sometimes uric acid lowering medications can actually bring on gout attacks. Doctors recommend the target uric acid level to be 6 mg/dL or under.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Gout can be managed by making smart lifestyle choices. Though gout symptoms during an attack can be managed and relieved with doctor-prescribed medication, taking certain steps in your lifestyle can help manage gout and the levels of uric acid in your blood. These steps include:
- Drink plenty of water
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular exercise
- Don’t eat meat, seafood or other high purine foods on a daily basis
- Limit alcohol intake, particularly beer