For those who have ever suffered the excruciating onset of gout, the symptoms are undeniable. For the rest of us, the condition may be something of a mystery. If you know someone who endures gout flare-ups and have wondered what they are dealing with, or if you have sudden onset pain, swelling and redness in your joints, here is a crash course on the condition.
What is gout?
Gout – a complex form of arthritis – is characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness and tenderness in joints, frequently in the joint at the base of the big toe. Men are more likely to get gout, but women become increasingly susceptible after menopause.
An acute attack of gout can wake you up in the middle of the night with the sensation that your big toe is on fire. The affected joint is hot, swollen and so tender that even the weight of the sheet on it may seem intolerable.
What causes gout?
Gout occurs when uric acid (monosodium urate) crystals accumulate in your joint, causing the inflammation and intense pain of a gout attack. Your body produces uric acid when it breaks down substances that are found naturally in your body, as well as in certain foods, such as organ meats, anchovies, herring, asparagus and mushrooms.
Normally, uric acid dissolves in your blood and passes through your kidneys into your urine. But sometimes your body produces too much uric acid or your kidneys excrete too little uric acid. When this happens, uric acid can build up, forming sharp, needle-like urate crystals in a joint or surrounding tissue resulting in pain, inflammation and swelling. You’re more likely to develop gout if you have high levels of uric acid in your body.
Factors that increase the uric acid level in your body include:
Symptoms are almost always acute, occurring suddenly – often at night – and without warning:
When to see a doctor
Reducing your risk
Manage your weight, get exercise and limit alcohol, meat and seafood.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of gout, see a physician.