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What is Gout?

Friday 4 June 2021
5 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. Understanding Gout

II. How Common is Gout?

III. Symptoms of Gout

IV. Diagnosing Gout

V. Treatment Options for Gout

Understanding Gout

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that cause joint pain. There are hundreds of types of arthritis, and one of the most common types is gout. Gout can cause severe joint pain, swelling, and redness. These gout symptoms tend to come and go but can significantly reduce your ability to do everyday activities (like climbing the stairs). For most people, gout attacks are sudden and can last up to 10 days. Severe cases of gout can cause permanent joint changes, so it is important to treat gout as early as possible. [1]

Gout occurs when there is excess uric acid in the bloodstream. This may be due to the body producing too much or expelling too little uric acid. Gout tends to affect the feet most often, especially the joint behind the big toe. If gout becomes chronic, the uric acid crystals that form can grow in size and puncture the skin. [2]

Uric acid buildup is mostly due to consuming excess purines, which are found in red meat, organ meats, and certain seafoods. Drinking sweetened and fructose-rich beverages can also have an ill effect on gout levels.

swollen finger joints

On the flip side, the kidneys are responsible for expelling uric acid through your urine. If the kidneys excrete too little uric acid, buildup may also occur. If you are diagnosed with gout, your doctor may prescribe anti-gout agents like Colcrys (colchicine), Zyloprim (allopurinol), or indomethacin to ease symptoms. Read on to learn more about this common arthritic condition. [3]

How Common is Gout?

Gout is one of the most common types of arthritis, and it is becoming increasingly prevalent. Gout affects more than eight million people in the U.S. Statistically speaking, it is more common for men to develop gout than women. However, women are more likely to get gout than men after menopause. [4]

Several other factors can increase a person’s risk for gout. For example, gout is more likely to occur to those who have a family history of the disease. Other risk factors of gout include obesity, recent surgery, poor diet, and health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. Gout is also more common in people who take medications such as aspirin, thiazide diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers. [3]

Symptoms of Gout

Gout attacks can occur at any time, but they most often occur at night. As mentioned above, gout symptoms tend to occur suddenly. Below are some of the most common signs and symptoms of a gout attack.

  • Inflammation: This symptom involves the affected joint becoming red, warm, tender, and swollen.
  • Intense joint pain: This symptom usually affects the big toe but can affect any joint in the body. Intense pain from a gout attack is usually the most severe within the first 12 hours. Commonly affected joints include the knees, elbows, fingers, wrists, and ankles.
  • Continued discomfort: After the most intense period of pain, you may still feel joint discomfort for several days or weeks.
  • Limited range of motion: Severe gout can reduce your ability to move your joints as easily as before. [3]

If you experience a gout attack or a flare-up of any of the above symptoms, speak with your doctor as soon as possible. Drinking fluids can help flush out excess uric acid, ease symptoms, and reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. While there are many home remedies for gout, it’s important to get your doctor’s assessment to rule out any underlying conditions. [4]

an x-ray of the wrist joint

Diagnosing Gout 

To diagnose gout, your doctor may start with a joint fluid test. This test involves drawing fluid with a needle from the affected joints. By examining joint fluid under a microscope, your doctor can determine whether urate crystals are present.

Your doctor may also order a blood test to measure uric acid levels in your blood. While a blood test can show how much uric acid is in your bloodstream, this reading does not always correlate with gout. Sometimes, a patient can have high blood uric acid levels but no gout symptoms, and vice versa. If the results from a blood test are not able to determine gout, an x-ray or an ultrasound may be used.

An x-ray image of the affected joints can be used to rule out other causes of joint inflammation. Similarly, an ultrasound can be used to detect urate crystals in the joints. Finally, a dual-energy computerized tomography (DECT) can be used to get a clearer visual of the joints. A DECT combines x-ray images from different angles for a better understanding of how the joint is affected. [5]

Treatment Options for Gout

Gout symptoms are commonly treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like indomethacin to relieve the pain. Another option that doctors often recommend is colchicine, an anti-inflammatory medication effective in reducing gout discomfort. [5]

several packets of medicine

Dying cancer cells can cause the body to release uric acid, so patients receiving chemotherapy for cancer may experience high uric acid levels. In cases like this, you may be prescribed allopurinol to reduce the amount of uric acid your body makes. Allopurinol is an oral medication that can reduce the risk of gout and associated kidney problems. [6]

Depending on the condition of your health, corticosteroids are another option to control gout pain. To decide which treatment option is right for you, discuss your treatment goals with your doctor. Speaking with your doctor and being transparent about the medications you are taking can help to avoid drug interactions and adverse side effects.

Along with gout medications, your doctor will likely recommend a gout-friendly diet that avoids foods high in purines. A healthy lifestyle, diet, and exercise can make your gout medications more effective. In certain cases, your doctor may refer you to an arthritis specialist called a rheumatologist. Get in touch with your physician today to start your journey towards better joint health.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.