Definition and Overview

Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by swelling of the joints caused by excessive levels of uric acid in the body. Although it can affect any joint, it is more common in the big toe. This medical condition often causes massive swelling and results to excruciating, sometimes unbearable, pain that can last for several days to a few weeks. However, the condition can be easily controlled by medication.

While gout can affect anybody, it is more prevalent on men who are overweight and have a family history of the condition. It is also common among menopausal women. If left untreated, gout can harm tendon, joints, and other tissues.

Causes

Gout is primarily caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a result of a breakdown of purines found in a variety of food such as beans, liver, red meat, and peas. In most situations, uric acid is filtered in the kidneys and released from the body through urine, but when excessive levels build up, it forms crystals that are trapped in the joints.

Initially, gout affects the joints of the big toe, but it can progress to other joints, such as the ankles and knees. If left untreated, the crystals can cause deformation of the affected areas.

Gout can flare up without specific cause, but studies have confirmed that it can be brought on by certain medicines that contain a significant amount of uric acid concentration, being overweight, and substantial alcohol intake. It can also be caused by specific medical conditions including high blood pressure. People, who are born with Lesch-Nyhan or Kelley-Seegmiller syndrome (which causes a high level of uric acid in the blood), are at higher risk.

Key Symptoms

  • Swelling, redness, and tenderness in the affected area
  • Difficulty of movement in the affected area
  • Painful sensation that worsens over time
  • Tenderness and soreness of the joint
  • Inflammation and redness of the joint

Gout will usually attack suddenly. It can happen even in the middle of the night while you’re asleep. If the gout affects the big toe, walking on that foot will certainly be impossible. However, over time, the pain and swelling will gradually subside.

Gout may recur, but sometimes it takes months or even years before the next flare-up. If it occurs more frequently, it will be classified as chronic gout.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

Gout symptoms are similar to other forms of arthritis. Thus, it’s important that you receive a correct diagnosis before receiving any form of treatment.

Normally, the initial diagnosis will come from your general physician, who will then request a series of tests, including a uric acid test to determine if you have abnormal levels of this acid. This simple examination is performed through urinalysis. Another is through arthrocentesis or joint fluid analysis that identifies the presence of uric acid crystals.

Depending on the severity of the condition, the doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication to relieve the pain or refer you to a specialist such as a rheumatologist or orthopedist.

Gout can be treated by taking prescribed medications including uricosoric agents that reduce the uric acid levels in the blood. Cold compress, on the other hand, can alleviate the pain and decrease the redness and swelling.

Since obesity may worsen gout, it’s helpful to reduce weight. Also, reduce or avoid excessive alcohol intake since it prevents the kidneys from releasing uric acid. Consumption of food high in purines, such as meats and seafood should also be avoided as much as possible.

If you are taking medications for other medical conditions, you will need to inform your doctor as some medicines, like diuretics, niacin, and aspirin can raise uric acid levels.

Metabolic and kidney problems should also be addressed as soon as possible as well.

With the right diet, plenty of exercise, and medications, gout attacks can be reduced or even avoided altogether.

Resources:

  • Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org
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