Gout Overview

Learn more about the causes and symptoms of gout

While the first symptoms of gout come quickly (severe pain and joint swelling), the cause has likely been in your system for quite some time. Gout is caused by months of uric acid accumulating in your bloodstream and then crystallizing in the big toe or other joint(s).

Uric acid forms needle-like crystals that can inflame cartilage, bones, ligaments and other joint tissues. Because gout relies on a slow-moving buildup of the acid to form, the nerves in your body won’t notice what’s going on until swelling of the affected joint(s) occurs and then the pain sets in.

Learn more about the essentials to the causes and symptoms of gout. (Source: 123RF)

What Causes Gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis that arises when there is too much uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid is a waste product that occurs naturally when your body breaks down certain proteins. When there’s an excess of uric acid-rich types of food, alcohol or there is a medication that interferes with uric acid excretion, the kidneys can’t filter out and clear the uric acid quickly enough, causing a buildup in one or more joints or soft tissues.  Gout can also occur if your kidneys are not working well due to other causes, such as from dehydration or long-standing high blood pressure, and then the uric acid will become higher in the bloodstream.

While the big toe is the most popular location for gout attacks, the conditions frequently affect other joints in the feet and in the ankles. Gout can also affect your knees, elbows, wrists, and hands.

Who Gets Gout?

In the United States, about 3 to 4% of Americans are affected by gout, which makes it the most common form of inflammatory arthritis. While it tends to afflict men more than women, there’s a higher risk in people who:

  • eat a lot of meat- or seafood-based proteins
  • live with conditions like kidney disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, insulin resistance or diabetes
  • are overweight or obese
  • take diuretic medications
  • drink an excessive amount of alcohol, especially beer.

What to Do When Symptoms Hit

Severe and sudden pain—an attack—is the main gout symptom, especially with your first bout. If you suspect you may be experiencing your first gout attack, visit your primary care doctor or provider. Joint infections and some forms of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis can have similar symptoms, so your doctor must run a few tests to get a definitive gout diagnosis. They likely will examine a small sample of the fluid found inside your joint under a microscope to look for uric acid crystals, or simply do a blood test to check the uric acid level in your bloodstream.

Early warning signs can pop up before an attack occurs, like small stabs of pain and swollen or sensitive joints. Sometimes, a fever can develop and the skin covering your joint maybe become dry and shiny, with a red-purple hue.

Within 5 to 7 days, pain from gout attacks should subside. However, a doctor should still be consulted for treatment and pain relief should another bout of pain come. They can also provide guidance on how to prevent the buildup of uric acid in the future through treatment and lifestyle changes.

Updated on: 02/12/19
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