Gout is an inflammatory arthritis that causes joint pain. The first episodes of arthritis usually start in the big toe joints, of which typical symptoms can include intense pain, swelling, redness, and heat. Gout flares can occur suddenly and last for days or weeks, followed by periods of remission when there are no symptoms. Over time, joints can become damage if left untreated.
Gout is caused by a condition called hyperuricemia, where the body has too much uric acid. The body naturally produces uric acid when it breaks down purines from food you consume. However, too much uric acid in the body can build up in joints, fluids, and tissues.
Although gout often occurs in the big toe, other joints that are commonly affected include lesser toe joints, ankle, and knee. In the early cases of gout, flare ups may begin at night and manifest suddenly. Gout attacks may be triggered by stress, alcohol, drugs, or another illness. Gout flares typically last for days or weeks and are followed by long periods of remission from weeks, months, or years.
The chances of developing gout may increase your chances if you:
- Are male
- Are an adult
- Are obese
- Drink alcohol
- Consume food and drinks high in fructose
- Have a diet with purine-rich foods, including red meat, organ meat, and certain seafoods such as anchovies, sardines, mussels, scallops, trout, and tuna
- Have certain health conditions such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and poor kidney function.
Rheumatologists are specialized physicians who are knowledgeable in treating inflammatory diseases. Since signs and symptoms of gout can appear to be similar to symptoms of other inflammatory diseases, patients should see a rheumatologist for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for gout ranges from medicine and self-management strategies. Patients can treat flare ups with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. In order to prevent future flares, patients can make diet and lifestyle changes such as losing weight, limiting alcohol, and eating less purine-rich food. For cases of uric acid build up, patients can take measures to prevent kidney stones and uric acid deposits under the skin called tophi.
Millions of people are affected by gout at some point in their lives. After a prolonged period of time, gout may cause permanent damage to your joints and kidneys. There is no cure for gout, but with proper treatment, patients can manage pain symptoms and avoid long-term damage to joints.