Gout: What You Should Know
If you have been experiencing some new and severe pains in your joints, especially at night, your physician will need to determine if gout is the cause of your discomfort. Gout is a form of arthritis that results from an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the affected joints. Once you are diagnosed with gout, lifelong management is essential to prevent future painful flare-ups and to avert further joint damage.
What Causes Gout?
One identifying feature of gout is the presence of a condition called hyperuricemia, which is a high level of uric acid in the bloodstream. This excess uric acid can form crystals in the joints, and these crystals are the cause of the pain and inflammation of gout attacks. Various factors increase the risk for developing gout, including:
- Being overweight
- Consuming a diet that is high in purines
- High alcohol consumption
- Certain medications, including diuretics, immunosuppressant drugs, chemotherapy drugs and aspirin
- Certain medical conditions, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and kidney disease
- Having a family history of gout
Gout occurs more frequently in men and postmenopausal women. Gout rarely afflicts children.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gout?
The first sign that you may be affected by gout is the symptom of extreme pain in one joint. Half of all gout cases present with pain in a big toe, but other joints, including the knees and ankles, can also be the source of initial gout pain. The pain often strikes at night, and the pain may worsen and continue for several hours. Other signs and symptoms of gout include:
• Swelling and tenderness of the affected joint
• Restricted flexibility and range of motion of the joint
• Red or purple skin at the site of the affected joint
How is Gout Treated?
The treatments for gout consist of short-term relief and long-term control. If you are in the painful throes of an attack that prompted your visit to the doctor, immediate treatment will be initiated to relieve the pain and inflammation. This may be accomplished with the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids or a drug called colchicine. You can also take these steps at home to help decrease your level of discomfort during an attack:
- Apply ice packs or cold compresses to the affected joint.
- Keep the joint rested.
- Elevate the affected joint.
Once the attack has passed, long-term management is essential for preserving joint health, preventing future attacks and maintaining a comfortable quality of life. Part of this long-term management will be accomplished with medication that reduces the uremic acid levels in your blood. If you are overweight, your doctor will recommend a safe weight loss program of diet and exercise. Periodic monitoring through blood and urine panels, follow-up examinations and regular communication with your rheumatologist are also necessary components of your long-term treatment plan.