Gout is a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the joints. It is a common and complex form of arthritis that can affect anyone. It’s characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints, often the joint at the base of the big toe.
Symptoms of Gout
Some people have too much uric acid in their blood, but no symptoms. This is called asymptomatic gout.
Acute gout symptoms come on quickly from the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joint and last for 3 to 10 days. The patient will have intense pain and swelling, and their joint may feel warm. Between gout attacks they won’t have any symptoms.
If gout isn’t treated, it can become chronic. Hard lumps called tophi can eventually develop in the joints and the skin and soft tissue surrounding them. These deposits can permanently damage the joints.
Prompt treatment is important to prevent gout from turning chronic.
Gout occurs when urate crystals accumulate in the joint, causing the inflammation and intense pain of a gout attack. Urate crystals can form when a person has high levels of uric acid in their blood.
The body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines — substances that are found naturally in the body. Purines are also found in certain foods, such as steak, organ meats and seafood.
Other foods also promote higher levels of uric acid, such as alcoholic beverages, especially beer, and drinks sweetened with fruit sugar (fructose).
Normally, uric acid dissolves in the blood and passes through the kidneys into the urine. But sometimes either the body produces too much uric acid or the 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 that cause pain, inflammation and swelling.
If left untreated, gout can eventually lead to arthritis. This painful condition can leave the joint permanently damaged and swollen.
The treatment plan the doctor recommends will depend on the stage and severity of the gout. Medications to treat gout work in one of two ways;
- They relieve pain and bring down inflammation
- They prevent future gout attacks by lowering uric acid levels
Along with medications, the doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of future gout attacks. For example, the doctor may encourage the patient to;
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Lose weight
- Quit smoking
Medicines and lifestyle changes aren’t the only way to manage gout. A few alternative therapies have also shown promise.
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