Gout & Arthritis

Gout: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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The prevalence of gout is increasing around the world. Unfortunately, there is still no cure for gout. It is a lifelong disease that can be controlled by a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

In this article, we discuss everything that you need to know about gout – from its causes, risk factors, and symptoms to treatment options and prevention strategies.

Gout: What Is It?

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid can cause the formation of needle-like crystals in a joint, which can result in sudden and severe episodes of pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling.

There are over 100 types of arthritis and among them, gout is one of the most painful type.

What Causes Gout? What Risk Factors Increase Your Chances of Developing It?

Gout is the result of too much uric acid in the body – a condition known as hyperuricemia.

Uric acid is a substance that forms when the body breaks down purines that are found in your body and the foods you eat. The blood transports uric acid into the kidneys which are eventually eliminated in urine. However, some individuals overproduce uric acid, while others produce a normal amount but their kidneys can’t process it properly which results in uric acid build-up.

While hyperuricemia does not always cause gout, it does increase one’s risk of developing this condition.

Other risk factors that can increase your risk of developing gout include:

  • Age and Gender. Gout is more prevalent in men and affects them at a younger age. Men usually develop gout between the ages of 30 and 50, while women typically develop it after age 50.  
  • Family History. If you have a family member with gout, your chances of developing the disease increases. 
  • Using Certain Medications. Taking certain medications, such as diuretics and the drug cyclosporine, increases your chances of developing gout. 
  • Unhealthy Lifestyle. Excessive alcohol consumption, being overweight, not drinking enough fluids, and eating purine-rich foods (i.e. red meats and seafood) can increase your risk of developing gout. 
  • Other Medical Problems. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure, causes higher levels of uric acid in the blood. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gout?

Gout attacks can be sudden and severe, and it can last for days or weeks.   

For most people, the first symptom of gout is swelling and unbearable pain in the big toe. It often occurs after a trauma, such as an injury or illness. However, gout may also appear in other lower-body joints, such as the knee or ankle. Succeeding gout attacks may occur on and off in other joints, usually those of the knee and foot, before it becomes chronic.

Symptoms in the affected joint(s) may include swelling, heat, redness, and intense pain.

Typically, gout only affects one joint at a time. However, if left untreated, it can affect many other joints. Furthermore, joint pain that used to resolve in a few days may become a constant pain. In the long term, untreated gout may lead to joint damage and physical deformity.

If you experience gout symptoms, it is crucial to consult your doctor immediately. Gout is a chronic, lifelong disease that can get worse over time. But with early detection and appropriate treatment, you may be able to manage the disease better and prevent joint damage.

How Is Gout Diagnosed? How Is It Treated?

A doctor diagnoses gout by reviewing your medical history, examining the affected joint(s), and conducting tests, such as X-rays and blood tests.

Your doctor will need to rule out other potential causes of joint inflammation and pain, such as injury, infection, or another type of arthritis. To measure the level of uric acid in your blood, they may perform a blood test. However, note that a high level of uric acid in your blood does not necessarily mean that you have gout. To further confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may perform an ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, or CT to examine the soft tissues and bones. Your doctor may also extract fluid from the affected joint(s) and examine it for uric acid crystals. One of the best ways to diagnose gout is by finding uric acid crystals in the joint fluid.

Once a gout diagnosis is made, your doctor can recommend certain medications and self-management strategies to help you effectively manage this disease.

Gout Treatment and prevention strategies may include:

  • OTC and Prescription Medications. For mild gout attacks, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate pain. For severe cases, your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as indomethacin and colchicine.
  • Home Remedies. Reducing inflammation during a gout attack can help alleviate pain. Certain home remedies can be effective in pain management. This includes applying ice to the affected area to reduce swelling, keeping the affected area elevated, and resting the affected area while symptoms are present.
  • Lifestyle Changes. Making adjustments to your lifestyle can help reduce your gout risk. Make sure to drink plenty of water to flush uric acid from your system, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy body weight, avoid sugary drinks, lower your calorie intake, and avoid alcohol.
  • Weight Management

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to gout prevention and management. Not only does losing weight help reduce the uric acid levels in your blood, it can also lessen the pressure off of joints and reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease – both of which are common in people who have gout. For effective weight management strategies, make sure to consult your doctor or dietitian.

  • Surgical Treatment. In severe gout cases, surgical treatment may become necessary. For instance, surgery may be required to remove tophi – large nodules of uric acid that builds up around the tendons or joints. If left untreated, these nodules can cause severe pain and may become infected. Some people with gout may also need joint replacement to provide pain relief and maintain joint movement. This procedure involves removing the painful joint(s) and replacing it with artificial parts.

The Bottom Line

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis characterized by sudden and severe episodes of tenderness, warmth, redness, swelling, and pain. Early detection is key to gout treatment and management.

While there is no cure for gout, certain medications and lifestyle changes can help alleviate pain and improve your overall quality of life.

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