Gout occurs when uric acid crystals build up in the joints. This causes the joints to be inflamed, causing pain.
Gout typically occurs if you have high levels of uric acid in your blood. A high level of uric acid in the blood is identified by the term hyperuricemia. However, you could also have normal uric levels and still have gout.
The uric acid can then form crystals in the joints causing the pain and inflammation.
The liver metabolizes uric acid, and the kidneys get rid of it through the urine. Levels of uric acid build up when:
- Too much uric acid is produced
- Not enough uric acid is eliminated
If you have gout and hyperuricemia, your body doesn't eliminate enough uric acid.
Gout is more common in men over the age of 30 years, but gout can occur in men and women at any age. Other factors that may increase your risk of gout include:
- Obesity , sudden weight gain, or rapid weight loss
- Family members with history of gout
- Kidney disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- High blood pressure
- Certain types of cancer
Certain medications, such as:
- Low-dose aspirin
- Cyclosporin, an antirejection drug
- Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer
Certain foods and beverages may also increase your chances of gout.
- Foods high in purines, such as organ meats, shellfish, some vegetables, and gravies.
- High-fructose drinks, such as sugar-sweetened sodas and orange juice
- Excess alcohol , especially beer
- Binge drinking alcohol
Symptoms may include:
- Sudden onset of severe pain in an inflamed joint, usually starting in the big toe
- Joints that are red, hot, swollen, and very tender
- Increased pain 24-48 hours after the onset of symptoms
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Most people with gout have another attack. This attack may affect many different joints. With recurrent gout, tophi can form. Tophi are chalky deposits of uric acid that commonly occur in the elbows and earlobes.
Gout can also lead to other health problems, such as:
- Kidney stones
- Kidney disease
- Joint destruction
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A sample of fluid from the affected joint will be taken. This fluid will be tested for uric acid crystals.
Other tests may include:
Treatment depends on whether the gout is acute or recurrent.
In general, the sooner treatment begins for an acute attack, the more effective it is. Treatment depends on:
- Number of joints affected
- Previous responses to treatment
- Overall health
Putting an ice pack on the joint may ease the pain. Keeping the weight of clothes or bed covers off the joint can also help.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Corticosteroids—may be given orally or as an injection into the affected joint
- Consume a low-purine diet.
- Avoid alcohol.
- If you're overweight, lose weight gradually. Rapid weight loss can cause a gout attack.
- Ask your doctor if any of your medications can cause high uric acid levels.
- Drink a lot of fluids throughout the day.
If you have recurrent gout, or you have kidney stones, tophi, or reduced kidney function, you may be given medications:
- To lower the production of uric acid
- To increase the excretion of uric acid by the kidneys
- To convert uric acid into a different byproduct
Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.