WHAT IS GOUT?
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints that can lead to sudden, intense pain—often called a gout flare—and swollen joints that may become red and/or hot. While statistics show that more than 50 percent of gout flares start in the big toe, the uric acid crystals associated with gout are also commonly found in knees, hands, and feet, and can deposit in organs throughout the body, such as the kidney, causing kidney stones.
WHAT CAUSES GOUT?
It’s normal for everyone to have at least some uric acid in their bodies. However, too much uric acid can build up and increase the risk of developing gout. Uric acid typically dissolves in the blood and then passes through the kidneys, where it is eventually removed through urine. Approximately two-thirds of uric acid is produced by the body naturally; the rest comes from diet, often in the form of purines, which are substances in animal and plant foods that the body converts to uric acid. A family history of gout, as well as other health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, can increase risk for developing gout. Certain medications can also trigger gout.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF GOUT?
Gout is often associated with the sudden onset of severe pain and swelling, in which the affected joints are very tender, even to the lightest touch. Putting any weight on the affected joint can be very difficult, and the pain may last for a few days. In some instances, uric acid crystals may continue to build up and form tophi, or lumps under the skin. While generally not painful, these lumps can interfere with normal joint function and may lead to bone erosion or damage to the cartilage.
HOW IS GOUT DIAGNOSED AND TREATED?
Gout can be diagnosed through examination, a blood test, or by analyzing joint fluid. While gout is treatable, it is not curable. The approach to treatment is individualized and may include decreasing the amount of uric acid in the blood as well as controlling the joint pain. Lowering uric acid levels in the blood can prevent or lessen painful attacks and reduce the risk of gout complications such as kidney stones and the development of tophi. Anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids may be prescribed to help with the joint pain. For some, signs and symptoms may continue to occur despite taking oral uric acid-lowering medicines. Lifestyle changes such as, weight loss, decreasing alcohol consumption, and diet modification can help decrease symptoms and limit flare ups.