Gout is a complex form of inflammatory arthritis usually affecting the big toe. Around 4% of American adults are said to have the condition. Studies show that the global prevalence of gout has increased over the past 50 years. However, research also shows that the prevalence of gout varies greatly among different ethnic groups. The symptoms of gout can be non-specific sometimes so the diagnosis of gout is made difficult. Once diagnosed, treatment involves relieving the symptoms as well as preventing future attacks. Prevention of further episodes is important because if left untreated, gout can result in severe damage to the affected joint which can cause disability. In case you suspect that you have gout or are already diagnosed with the condition, keep reading to learn more about gout.
What Is Gout?
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints as a result of elevated blood levels of uric acid. Certain medical conditions, dietary habits, and genetic factors can all make it harder for your body to eliminate uric acid which can, later on, lead to gout. Gout is different from other forms of arthritis in that it can happen suddenly which is known as a gout attack. However, medical experts have noticed that gout actually comes in stages, not all of which are noticeable. The first stage of gout is asymptomatic hyperuricemia which is the period preceding a gout attack. It is characterized by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood and by the formation of needle-like crystals in the joints. However, this stage is usually symptom-free. The second stage of gout is the actual gout attacked characterized by deep, burning pain in the big toe. The third stage is called interval gout which is characterized by low-level inflammation which can damage the joints. The last stage is chronic gout which can be prevented with proper treatment.
The Symptoms of Gout
As already mentioned, the main symptom of gout is burning pain in the big toe. People often report waking up in the middle of the night feeling like their big toe is on fire. The pain is mostly severe enough to prevent the person from standing and even the lightest pressure on the affected joint becomes unbearable. The pain of gout is also followed by swelling and redness in the affected area. The affected joint will often feel warm and tender. These symptoms often occur with the first gout attack and the majority of people experience it in just one of their big toe joints. This is the joint connecting your big toe with your foot. If left untreated, gout can start to occur in other joints in the lower extremities such as the ankles and knees. Over time, gout can become chronic and impair one’s ability to move normally. But when treated, joint pain caused by gout dies down in a matter of a few weeks although most people will still experience constant but mild pain.
The Causes Of Gout
The causes of gout include elevated levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid is a byproduct of the breakdown of a compound found in many foods we eat called purine. Usually, the body is able to eliminate most uric acid through urine but sometimes, this ability is impaired. A diet high in meats as well as drinking too much alcohol can interfere with the elimination of uric acid. Kidney diseases, hemolytic anemia, and hyperthyroidism also increase a person’s risk of developing gout. According to MedlinePlus, some groups are at a higher risk of developing gout than others. For instance, men are more likely to develop gout than women, but women are more likely to develop gout after menopause. Gout is also recognized as a hereditary disorder with an estimate of 20-80% of people with gout showing a family history of the disease. A study published in the American College of Rheumatology found that people on the Marshall Islands had a gout prevalence of 85% while Papa New Guinea had a 1% prevalence of gout which proves the genetic component of gout.
Diagnosing And Treating Gout
Diagnosing gout can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to other forms of arthritis. A doctor may have to take a sample of the synovial fluid from your joint which will be examined under the microscope to see if there are any uric acid crystals present. Doctors may also look for these crystals in other joint tissue before making a definitive diagnosis. Once you are diagnosed with gout, doctors will help you get relief through pain medication such as Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). You will also be prescribed corticosteroids to help reduce the inflammation and a drug made specifically for gout called Colchicine that should be taken within 12 hours of a gout attack. Treatment for gout also entails making dietary and lifestyle choices that will help prevent future attacks. Avoiding foods high in purine such a anchovies, asparagus, liver, mackerel, scallops, mushrooms, and others will help reduce the level of uric acid in your blood.
Gout is a painful form of arthritis initially affecting one joint but that can also affect other joints if left untreated. Luckily, most people diagnosed with the condition are able to retain their functioning and joint mobility with the help of current treatment options. If you suspect that you have gout, don’t wait for your pain to spontaneously resolve. The buildup of urine crystals caused by elevated uric acid can affect other joints soon on and even irreversibly damage your affected joint. This is why treatment of gout is so important.