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What is Gout?

Gout is a painful and potentially disabling form of arthritis that has been around since ancient times. It is sometimes referred to as the “disease of kings,” because people long have incorrectly linked it to the kind of overindulgence in food and wine only the rich and powerful could afford. In fact, gout can affect anyone, and its risk factors vary.

What Causes Gout?

Gout occurs when excess uric acid (a normal waste product) collects in the body, and needle‐like urate crystals deposit in the joints. This may happen because either uric acid production increases or, more often, the kidneys cannot remove uric acid from the body well enough. Certain foods and drugs may raise uric acid levels and lead to gout attacks. These include:

  • Shellfish and red meats
  • Alcohol in excess
  • Sugary drinks and foods that are high in fructose
  • Some medications, such as:

Over time, increased uric acid levels in the blood may lead to deposits of urate crystals in and around the joints. These crystals can attract white blood cells, leading to severe, painful gout attacks and chronic arthritis. Uric acid also can deposit in the urinary tract, causing kidney stones.

What are the Symptoms of Gout?

The first symptoms usually are intense episodes of painful swelling in single joints, most often in the feet, especially the big toe. The swollen site may be red and warm. Fifty percent of first episodes occur in the big toe, but any joint can be involved. There are a variety of symptoms you should watch out for when it comes to diagnosing gout. These include:

  • The presence of nodules or tophi, which are huge groups of urate crystals in your elbows, hands, or ears
  • Red or purplish skin that’s usually mistaken as an infection
  • Fever

However, since gout is a type of arthritis, the disease’s major points of attack are the joints in your body. The disease manifests through these indicators:

  • Intense pain in the joints of the ankles, hands, wrists, knees, and feet
  • Red, swollen, and tender joints
  • Lessened flexibility and limited movement in the joints

How to Diagnose Gout?

To diagnose gout, the doctor will take a patient's medical history, examine the affected joint and do a blood test. He or she will also ask about:

  • Other symptoms
  • What medications the patient is taking
  • The patient's diet
  • How quickly and intensely the gout attack came on

Details of the attack the doctor is looking for: severity of pain, length of attack and joints affected. The doctor will need to rule out other potential causes of joint pain and inflammation such as infection, injury or another type of arthritis. He will take a blood test to measure the level of uric acid in your blood.

Fortunately, it is possible to treat gout and reduce its very painful attacks by avoiding food and medication triggers and by taking medicines that can help. However, diagnosing gout can be hard, and treatment plans often must be tailored for each person.