Experiencing extreme pain and burning in your joints may lead you to believe that you have arthritis. But what you may have specifically is a condition called gout. It is one of the more painful forms of arthritis. Let’s look at facts about gout to help you better understand, manage and live with the condition.
What is gout?
Gout is also known as “gouty arthritis”. People with gout experience extremely painful joints, often involving their big toe or foot. The pain comes and goes, and is often accompanied by swelling.
Uric acid, a naturally-occurring chemical in foods and alcohol, causes gout. The kidneys normally process certain amounts of uric acid so that it is excreted in urine as waste. However, they can produce too much uric acid at times. When this happens, the kidneys can’t process it properly. That means that the acid remains in the body and turns it into urate crystals.
This buildup of uric acid crystals can cause kidney stones. But for many, the crystals build up in the joints, causing extreme pain and burning. While feet are most often affected, gout can occur anywhere including the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles or back.
Facts about gout risk factors
Doctors may do several tests to diagnose the disease, such as a urinalysis and blood tests to check uric acid levels, x-rays to look for build-ups or damage to the joints or a synovial biopsy to analyze tissue.
While these tests help doctors determine if a patient has met the criteria for gout, not everybody with high uric acid levels has it, even if they experience pain in the joints.
Let’s look at some quick facts:
- About 4% of American adults have gout.
- Men and women can both get gout, but men are more likely to get it. This is especially true for men in their 40s to 50s.
- A family history of gout increases your chances of getting it.
- Those who are obese or who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease are at an increased risk for gout.
- Eating the wrong foods, such as those high in purines (i.e. red meat, organs, lentils/legumes, sardines) can increase your chances of developing gout. This is because purines break down into uric acid.
- A history of excessive drinking, binge eating, substance abuse and/or gastric bypass surgery increase your risk factors for gout.
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Facts about gout symptoms
- Localized pain in just one to three joints, usually the big toe, ankles, or knees.
- Pain that usually starts quickly, especially for first-time sufferers.
- Commonly appears during the night, and can be throbbing, crushing or even excruciating.
- Affected joint becomes very tender to the touch- even as much as a sheet brushing against it can cause incredible pain.
- Area becomes very red and hot to the touch
- Fever may be present
- In extremely rare cases, buildup can occur in the kidneys leading to kidney failure
Attacks usually subside within a few days to weeks. If the attacks return, they typically get progressively more intense.
Tophi may appear when patients have been suffering from chronic gout. These are crystals that build up so large that they can be seen as bumps under the skin, sometimes pushing their way through the surface and out of the body. It is so painful that it can disable some gout patients.
How to manage gout
There are a variety of management techniques that you can use to keep gout under control. Acute attacks can be controlled with high doses of NSAIDs and corticosteroids. A medication called colchicine can help to control attacks if taken early on, but it can cause unpleasant side effects including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Some home remedies that may help to control or reduce flare-ups include:
- Eating whole cherries can reduce gout attacks
- Drinking a glass of warm water and apple cider vinegar each day can lower your uric acid levels
- Resting the affected joint and applying a cold compress can help with the pain
Once the flares have resolved, your doctor may prescribe a medication to lower the level of uric acid to help prevent or reduce the severity of gout episodes. It can take some trial and error before you find the medication that is right for you. Treatment will need to be tailored to your body’s specific needs and responses.
Lifestyle changes can also help to manage gout. These include:
- Subscribing to a gradual weight loss plan (dramatic or crash diets can contribute to gout)
- Avoiding foods high in purines, such as red meat, and sugary drinks can help to reduce your levels of uric acid
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol can lessen the severity of gout episodes
Understanding the facts about gout can help you to better cope with and manage this condition. While gout episodes can be extremely painful, taking steps to help prevent and reduce the episodes can greatly benefit your health.
If you’re experiencing pain in your toes, feet or ankles, ask your doctor for more facts about gout. She can give you an official diagnosis. She can also work with you to design a personalized treatment plan to manage your condition.
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