What is Gout?
Gout, also known is “Gouty arthritis” is a complex form of arthritis that is characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in joints, commonly in the big toe. Individuals who suffer from gout describe the disease to be incredibly painful and can make it feel like your joints are on fire. Gout attacks can last for days in the beginning, but overtime can become progressively longer. If left untreated gout can cause serious health risks such as permanent damage or deformity to the joints, or damage to the kidneys and liver.
- Characterized by intense and painful swelling of the joint, most often in the big toe, ankle or the knee.
- More commonly found in men between the ages of 20 and 40 and in women who have experienced menopause.
- Avoiding alcohol and certain fish and meats can help prevent gout attacks.
- Caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood that is a result of eating purine rich foods or a metabolic disorder.
- Gout is treatable through dietary and lifestyle changes as well as medications.
What Causes Gout?
Gout is a result of excess uric acid, a waste product created during the breakdown of purines. Purines are naturally occurring substances that exist in our body but can also be found in foods such as liver, anchovies, maceral and wheat bran.
Uric acid is typically filtered out of the blood by the kidneys, and passes out of the body in the urine. However, a variety factors such as blood and metabolism disorders, consuming purine rich foods and alcohol or a dysfunction in your kidneys can cause high levels of uric acid to accumulate in the body. When too little acid is excreted by the kidneys or when the body produces too much uric acid you can develop hyperuricemia and consequently, gout.
Uric acid in high concentrations converts into monosodium urate (MSU) crystals and localize around the joints and soft tissues. These needle-like urate crystals cause the painful inflammation and swelling of the joint and produces the unbearable symptoms of gout.
There are several risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop gout, they include:
- A family history of gout
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a kidney problem
- Lead exposure
- Certain medications such as diuretics or niacin
How To Tell If You Have Gout?
Because Gout shares symptoms with many other diseases (rheumatoid arthritis) and conditions (pseudo-gout), it can be hard to confirm through self-analysis if you have the disease. A rheumatologist is the best specialist who can properly identify and confirm acute gout or a gout attack. In addition, it’s possible to be suffering from another condition caused by hyperuricemia that can benefit from treatment, even if you aren’t diagnosed with gout.
However, it may be possible to identify the symptoms of Gout and depending on the severity you can make the decision to see a doctor for confirmation. The symptoms for gout commonly develop suddenly – often overnight – and without warning, they include:
- Intense pain in a joint
A gout attack will typically affect one joint, usually the big toe, knee or ankle. The severity of the pain will be at its height within the first 4 to 12 hours after it develops.
- Inflammation and redness
The effected joint will experience inflammation and be swollen, warm, red and tender to the touch.
- Limited mobility
The joint will have a limited range of motion as the gout progresses making it difficult to walk or perform other simple movements.
- Persistent discomfort
After the severe pain subsides, the affect joint may experience some discomfort several days later.
Gout can sometimes be confused for other diseases or conditions, the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and pseudo-gout.
- Gout vs. Rheumatoid arthritis
Both gout and rheumatoid arthritis produce swollen, painful joints, but the two diseases are very different. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body’s immune system attacking itself and causing damage to tissue and organs. Gout has nothing to do with the immune system, instead is only influenced by uric acid levels in the blood. Rheumatoid arthritis can be confused with gout in chronic gout sufferers due to them experiencing attacks in multiple joints at a time instead of just one joint.
- Gout vs. Pseudo-gout
Gout and pseudo-gout have a close resemblance but have different characteristics. The main difference between gout and pseudo-gout are the types of crystals that form and accumulate around the joints and cause inflammation. Gout is caused by monosodium urate (MSU) crystals, while calcium pyrophosphate crystals cause pseudo-gout. Additionally, pseudo-gout is said to inflict considerably less pain than gout.
It’s important to visit a doctor if you are concerned about developing or having gout. If left untreated gout can cause health complications such as damage and deformity to the joints and damage to the kidneys and liver.
What Are The Stages Of Gout?
There are several stages of gout that are important to differentiate as it determines the progression of the disease.
- Asymptomatic hyperuricemia
This is the period before the first gout attack. It does not produce symptoms, but there are elevated uric acid levels in the blood and crystals are starting to form in the joint.
- Acute gout, or a gout attack
This occurs usually after an activity (a night of heavy drinking) or a condition (obesity or kidney problems) triggers a sudden spike in uric acid levels or moves the already formed crystals in the joint. The subsequent inflammation and pain usually strikes at night and develops over a course of eight to 12 hours. Symptoms of a gout attack will ease after a few days and goes away in a week to 12 days. A second attack is possible and often occurs within a year.
- Interval gout
This is the time between attacks, after an attack has complete subsided. While there is no pain, the gout is not considered gone. Low-level inflammation is currently active and may be causing damage to the joints. During this time you will likely be recommended to begin managing your gout by making lifestyle changes and taking medications. Following a proper treatment program will help prevent future attacks and chronic gout.
- Chronic Gout
Chronic gout develops in people with gout whose uric acid levels are still high. Overtime the attacks occur more frequently and the pain can sometimes does not subside. Deformity and damage to the joints as a result of recurring inflammation. This stage is preventable and still treatable with proper management and treatment.
How Common Is Gout
Gout is a common disease that affects 4% of American adults – about 6 million men and 2 million women. The disease is more common in men between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are known to develop the disease after menopause, likely due to the decrease in estrogen during that stage in their lives. People with kidney diseases or metabolic disorders are also known to be commonly afflicted with gout. Gout has been strongly associated with obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol and triglycerides) and diabetes. Genetic factors has also inferred that gout can run in some families. Gout is rarely found in children.
Gout is a treatable and preventable disease under the assumption that proper steps are taken. The treatment for gout is usually a combination of lifestyle change and medications that are designed to help lower uric acid levels. This two-pronged approach includes:
- Anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce inflammation in the joint
- Anti-gout medications that reduce the uric acid in your body or help your body eliminate uric acid
- Dietary changes that include avoiding purine rich foods and consuming little to no alcohol
- Lifestyle changes that include weight loss, quitting smoking and other negative habits
- Exercising regularly to keep the joints active and to help with weight loss
Treatment for gout depends greatly on the individual. The severity of your gout can differ based on your health condition and other predisposed factors. The best place to start is with our free 3 minutes gout test. It has been developed to identify the severity of your gout and provide you with a personalized treatment plan to help you get on the right track to treat and prevent gout.
Start by taking the test here.