What is Gout?
Gout is a complex form of arthritis that can affect anyone. However, men develop the condition more often than women. Women tend to become more susceptible after menopause.
It results from a build-up of uric acid in the tissues or joint and most often affects the joint of the big toe. It is often identified by sudden and severe attacks of pain, redness, and tenderness in the joints (especially at the base of the big toe.)
Patients often describe an attack of gout as occurring suddenly, in the middle of the night, feeling as though the big toe is on fire. It is hot, swollen and so tender to touch that even the weight of their bed sheets becomes unbearable.
What Causes Gout?
Gout is a complex illness. It is caused by deposits of crystallized uric acid in the joint. What is uric acid? Uric acid is the breakdown of purines- chemicals found naturally in our bodies and in food. It present in the blood and is eliminated in the urine. However, for people who have gout, the uric acid builds up and crystallizes in the joints. Some patients develop gout because they produce too much uric acid, and others because their kidneys have difficulty removing normal amounts of it.
It is most often found in the big toe because uric acid is sensitive to temperature changes. Uric acid turns into crystals at cooler temperatures. The big toe is the part of the body that is furthest away from the heart, so it is also the coolest part of the body. As a result, it’s the most likely area for gout to occur. However, it can affect any joint in the body.
Often it is an inherited condition, yet there are other factors that put a person at risk including: diabetes, chemotherapy, high blood pressure, obesity, stress, surgery, and certain vitamins and medications.
Foods and beverages that contain high levels of purines can trigger a gout attack. Patients with gout should limit or avoid beer, organ meats (liver, kidney, etc.), shellfish, red meat, and red wine.
Symptoms of Gout
An attack of gout can be very uncomfortable for the sufferer. Gout is usually marked by the following symptoms:
- Intense and sudden pain. Though usually found in the joint of your big toe, it can also occur in the feet, knees, hands and wrists. It occurs most often in the middle of the night or upon waking in the morning. The pain is most severe in within the first four to 12 hours of the attack.
- Persistent discomfort. After the severe pain ebbs, there may be some lasting discomfort for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
- Inflammation and redness. The affected joint will be swollen, extremely tender, warm, and red.
- Reduced range of motion. As gout progresses, one might find they have a decreased range of joint mobility.
To diagnose gout, we will ask questions about your family and personal medical history. We will also thoroughly exam the affected joint. On occasion, lab tests and x-rays may be ordered to better determine if the inflammation is cause by gout or something else.
The good news is, gout is treatable, and there are ways one can reduce the risk that it will recur. Gout attacks are initially treated in the following ways:
- Dietary restrictions. You will need to avoid foods and beverages high in purines because the body converts purines to uric acid.
- You will need to drink plenty of water and other fluids each day to remain adequately hydrated. Alcoholic beverages cause dehydration and should be avoided.
- Immobilize and elevate. When gout attacks, you need to give your foot a rest. Avoid standing and walking and elevate the foot (with it level to or slightly above the heart) to reduce swelling.
- We may prescribe medications or injections to treat the pain, inflammation, and swelling.
If gout symptoms continue despite the treatments outlined above, or if repeated attacks occur, you may need to see your primary care physician for treatment of any underlying problems that are not foot related, which may involve a daily medication.
When you have foot or ankle problems – you don’t want just anyone. Call on the friendly experienced foot doctors at Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle. We specialize in treating foot and ankle pain or injuries of all varieties.
Call (208) 855-5955 or request an appointment online.