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Gout is a type of arthritis that commonly occurs in the big toe. It can also cause pain in the ankles, knees, and elbows. A buildup of uric acid that develops into crystals is the cause of gout in the big toe. A person is more likely to get gout in the big toe if he is obese or overweight, drinks too much alcohol, or is on certain medications. Some people also have a genetic propensity to produce excess uric acid.
Many people have high levels of uric acid in their blood but still do not get gout in the big toe. The human body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines, which are found in the body and also come from foods such as asparagus and mushrooms. Typically, the uric acid travels from the blood to the kidneys and out of the body in urine. In some cases, the kidneys do not pass enough uric acid into the urine so that it builds up and crystallizes in the joints, leading to gout. Eating too many foods that are high in purine can cause uric acid to build up as well.
The hard uric acid crystals are what cause pain from gout in the big toe. The crystals can cause sudden, intense pain in the big toe or another joint. The toe may swell and turn red. Pain from an attack of gout can last for months or years.
Certain lifestyles and conditions can increase a person's levels of uric acid and increase her risk for gout in the big toe. Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol, meaning more than a two drinks daily for a man or one daily for a woman, can cause uric acid buildup that leads to gout in the big toe. Someone who eats too much food or who gains weight quickly is at a greater risk for developing gout than someone who doesn't.
Chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol increase a person's chances of getting gout. A person may also inherit an inability to process uric acid properly, leading to crystallization and buildup in the body. Diseases such as leukemia can also cause uric acid buildup in the body.
Certain medications increase the levels of uric acid in the body, which can lead to gout. Just as high blood pressure can cause gout, so can the medications taken to treat it, especially diuretics, or water pills. Taking aspirin can also increase levels of uric acid in the body, leading to uric acid crystals and gout.