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Gout

- Summary
- About gout
- Risk factors and causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods for gout
- Treatment options for gout
- Prevention methods
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA

Summary

Gout is a very painful form of arthritis that can develop when blood levels of uric acid are chronically high. Uric acid is a substance that normally forms when the body breaks down substances called purines, which are found in the body and consumed in foods.

People with gout either produce too much uric acid or their body has a problem removing it. Gout can occur on its own but it is more often associated with other medical conditions or medications that may interfere with the body's ability to remove uric acid.

This buildup of uric acid (hyperuricemia) can lead to the development of sharp, needle-like crystals, which can accumulate in the body’s connective tissues. These deposits of uric acid crystals produce swelling, redness, heat, pain and stiffness in the joints.

Joints are most often affected, but uric acid crystals can also accumulate under the skin and in the kidneys and urinary tract. The symptoms of gout are usually severe and can occur without warning, often at night. Such occurrences are called acute gouty arthritis. Symptoms include inflammation, redness and severe joint pain. The large joint of the big toe is usually affected first.

Symptoms may initially disappear within three to 10 days, but if left untreated, gout can lead to increasing pain and joint damage. In some cases, the function of the kidneys and the urinary tract can be affected. People with gout are also more likely to develop kidney stones and other complications.

However, not everyone with high levels of uric acid will develop gout. Although it is not known why some people develop gout and not others, risk factors include family history of gout, excessive consumption of alcohol, diet, frequent use of some medications, and medical conditions including obesity, heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes. In addition, men are much more likely than women to develop gout. Some people may develop gout even with normal levels of uric acid in the blood.

Treatment focuses on reducing joint inflammation, preventing further episodes of acute gouty arthritis and decreasing the high blood levels of uric acid with medication and lifestyle changes (e.g., maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and foods high in purines such as organ meats and sardines).

Gout is highly treatable. Most patients who receive prompt treatment and follow guidelines can relieve attacks and sometimes avoid an impending attack. But repetitive attacks can permanently damage joints.

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Review Date: 12-28-2006
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