If you suffer from severe pain or discomfort around certain joints, you may be experiencing a medical condition known as gout. If left untreated, pain caused by gout can intensify and even lead to permanent damage of the affected joints. Here is an informative guide to help you better understand this medical condition.
What Is It?
Gout, also known as gouty arthritis, is a particular form of arthritis that occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood, resulting in inflammation of the joints. Uric acid is formed when the body breaks down a substance known as purine, which is found in certain types of foods like dried beans, mackerel, anchovies, liver and even beer. Uric acid typically dissolves in the blood, passes through the kidneys and is expelled through urine. However, when there is too much uric acid present in the blood, gout can develop.
There are two variations of gout that people may experience:
- Chronic gout: refers to repeated gout attacks, with pain and inflammation that can occur in more than one joint. Certain medications can be used to prevent gout from reoccurring.
- Acute gout: this refers to gout that is centralized to one specific joint.
Causes And Risk Factors
Gout can affect almost anyone, although men are more likely to suffer from gout than women. However, a woman’s risk for developing gout increases after menopause. When there is too much uric acid in the blood stream, urate crystals form in the joints or the surrounding tissue, which results in pain, swelling and inflammation.
There is no specific cause for why people might experience a spike in uric acid that can lead to gout. However, there are certain risk factors that should be considered. Those who are at a potentially high risk for developing gout include:
- People who are obese or over-weight
- People who drink alcohol excessively
- Those who are suffering from kidney disease
- People with sickle cell anemia
- People with leukemia
- Anyone taking certain medications, particularly hydrochlorothiazide and other diuretics
- Those with a diet that is high in meat, fish and other foods high in purines
- Anyone with a family history of gout
Signs and symptoms of gout include:
- Joint pain: Gout commonly occurs in an individual’s big toe, resulting in sharp pain around the largest joint of the two. Pain caused by gout can also occur in other joints of the body like the knees, wrists, ankles and hands. Joint pain tends to subside within the first 24 hours from when the attack occurred.
- Subtle pain and discomfort: Once the sharp pain around the joints has subsided, more subtle pain and general discomfort can be felt around the affected areas. This can last from just a few days to many weeks before all pain has completely subsided. There is also the possibility for another attack of severe joint pain sometime in the future.
- Swelling and inflammation: Aside from the pain around the joints, gout can also cause the affected areas to become red, tender and even swollen.
At the first signs of joint pain that may have been possibly caused by gout, medical attention should be sought, immediately. If left untreated, gout can result in more severe pain and even joint damage.
Certain complications may arise for those who are suffering from gout:
- Chronic gout: As it was mentioned above, chronic gout is repeated attacks of gout that can occur several times a year.
- Tophi: If left untreated, deposits of urate crystals can form directly under the skin. This is known as tophi, and although it isn’t painful, these deposits can become swollen during a gout attack.
- Kidney stones: If there is a build-up of urate crystals within the urinary tract, there is a good chance that kidney stones will develop.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with gout, your doctor may use several different medications to help treat your condition. Prescribed medication may vary depending on your preferences and the current state of your health.
- Your physician might also suggest colchicine as a pain reliever for gout symptoms.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken to alleviate pain, and can also help reduce swelling and inflammation. Do not take aspirin. This can actually raise the level of uric acid in your blood, making your gout even worse.
- Corticosteroids can help with pain and inflammation, and is recommended for those who cannot take NSAIDs or colchicine.
- Certain medications, like allopurinol or probenecid, might be prescribed to help lower the level of uric acid in your blood. This may help if you have suffered from several, severe attacks of gout, have damaged joints, are suffering from uric acid kidney stones, or if you have tophi.
While gout cannot be prevented, there are ways to bring symptoms down to a manageable level. Use these tips to avoid gout triggers:
- Reduce your alcohol consumption
- Pay attention to what you eat and avoid foods high in purine
- Drink more water
- Eat a healthier diet
- Reduce your weight
- Find sources for protein aside from fish, meat and poultry to lower your purine intake