Gout is a painful arthritis resulting from uric acid crystal deposits on the joints. Uric acid, a by-product of metabolism, is filtered out of the blood by the kidneys and eliminated in the urine. If the kidneys are damaged or the body produces more uric acid than can be filtered by the kidneys, the result is an excess serum level of uric acid that becomes concentrated on the joints.
Gout primarily impacts the joints of the big toes, elbows, thumbs and fingers. The main symptom of gout is sudden, intense pain in the affected joint. This pain is also often accompanied by swelling, redness, tenderness and inflammation of the joint. Chronic gout can lead to small, hard lumps, called tophi. Tophi are crystal acid deposits and can cause stiffness and pain.
Gout is identified by clinical symptoms and diagnostic testing. Blood tests are performed to measure uric acid levels, although blood work alone is not indicative of gout as the illness may sometimes be present in individuals with a normal acid level. Additional testing to examine fluid taken from around the suspect joint is often performed. A diagnosis of gout is confirmed if uric acid crystals are present in this fluid.
Men are more likely than women to suffer from gout, particularly middle-aged men. The tendency to develop gout is genetic in nearly half the sufferers. Overweight men and individuals with high blood pressure and those taking diuretic medications have an increased risk of developing gout. The symptoms of a gout attack typically last for only a week.
Individuals with gout must be treated for any underlying condition that is causing the uric acid deposits associated with gout. These deposits can be the result of kidney disease, poor diet, cancer, liver disease, thyroid disorder, obesity, certain medicines, lead poisoning or a number of other diseases. If left untreated individuals with gout may also develop uric acid deposits on the kidneys which can lead to serious illness and even death.
A gout episode is first treated with pain and inflammation medication and management. Gout associated with high blood levels of uric acid can be addressed by limiting protein in the diet and administering the medication allopurinol, which lowers the level of uric acid in the blood. The risk of developing gout can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a diet low in seafood and red meat, and by limiting the consumption of alcohol.