What is gout?
Gout is a common form of arthritis that is caused by an excess of uric acid. Uric acid is a normally occurring chemical made by the tissues of the body. In some people, however, the uric acid has a tendency to accumulate near the joints. If the uric acid leaks into the joint, a gout attack will occur.
Who gets gout?
Over 5 million people in the United states have gout. Men are affected more often than women. However, women past the age of menopause are at increased risk of getting gout. People who are overweight, those with kidney disease, and those who take diuretics (water pills) are also at a higher risk.
What are the symptoms of gout?
Gout usually starts with severe pain and swelling in a joint, most often the big toe. However, it may start in a different joint such as the ankle or knee. At first, a typical attack of pain and swelling will last for several days and then go away. The person is then free of any pain until the next flare occurs. It may be months or even years between attacks. Over time these extremely painful flares tend to occur more often and last longer (days to weeks). Attacks may also affect more than one joint at the same time. If not properly treated, gout can eventually lead to permanent injury of the joints.
How is gout diagnosed?
Several other kinds of arthritis can be confused with gout, so the correct diagnosis is essential for proper treatment. A rheumatologist can usually make the diagnosis based on the patient’s description of symptoms, an examination of the joints, x-rays, and blood tests. Sometimes it is necessary to drain fluid from the joint to make the diagnosis.
How is a gout attack treated?
Several different kinds of medicines may be given for the pain and inflammation of a gout flare. Those used most commonly are called steroids. Steroid medicines are potent anti-inflammatories and can be taken as a pill or as a liquid. The most commonly used pill is prednisone. The liquid forms are given as an injection (a cortisone shot).
Are there medicines to prevent gout attacks?
There are medications that can reduce the chance of having gout flares and in most cases can eliminate the attacks altogether. The medicines work by lowering the level of uric acid in the body. Most people who have repeated episodes of gout will need to take a medication every day to control the arthritis. The medication used most often is Allopurinol. Another is Uloric, but it is used less often than allopurinol, mainly because of its high cost.
Points to remember:
- Gout can affect quality of life by causing repeated painful flares of arthritis.
- Gout can cause permanent joint damage.
- With proper treatment, gout flares can almost always be eliminated.
*For persistent joint pain that is interfering with your daily activities, see a rheumatologist to make the correct diagnosis and begin the proper treatment.