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What is Gout?

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, and redness in the joints, often the big toe. It's caused by excess uric acid crystallizing in the joints. Imagine sharp crystals in a soft space—quite the painful intrusion. Want to see how gout manifests and learn ways to manage it? Explore our visual guide for insights.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Gout is considered a form of arthritis, since sufferers primarily experience excruciating pain in the joints, most often the joints of the big toe and foot. The formation of gout is directly linked to an overabundance of uric acid in the bloodstream. As uric acid levels rise, crystals form and collect in the base joint of the sufferer's big toe. These crystals of uric acid are painful enough, especially when they become lodged deep in the joint. Adding to the misery of this condition is a secondary skin inflammation, with increased sensitivity, redness and swelling.

People with gout usually suffer short attacks that sometimes last for several days or weeks. Much like those with kidney stones, sufferers can be symptom-free for several years between attacks. Uric acid crystals are also responsible for one form of kidney stones. Gout can become chronic over time, which means the sufferer must take daily medications in order to prevent the onset of major symptoms and extreme pain.

Full fat dairy products can exacerbate gout.
Full fat dairy products can exacerbate gout.

Gout is usually treated through dietary changes and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). During an attack, a medical professional may inject prescription NSAIDs directly into the affected joint, along with a drug designed specifically to reduce the size of uric acid crystals. The use of aspirin for pain relief is strongly discouraged. An over-the-counter NSAID such as ibuprofen may take the edge off the pain, but will not mask it completely.

Many types of meat, especially those high in fat can contribute to gout.
Many types of meat, especially those high in fat can contribute to gout.

At one time in history, gout was viewed as a disease of the wealthy, since the foods which triggered it were primarily available to richer citizens. Research has since shown that the main culprit for its formation is an organic substance called purine. Foods with high levels of purine, including organ meats, beans and red meats, contribute to the body's level of uric acid.

Aspirin may aggravate gout symptoms.
Aspirin may aggravate gout symptoms.

Ordinarily, the body can metabolize uric acid and send the excess through the urinary tract for elimination. For some reason, people prone to gout cannot fully process purine-rich foods, leading to the formation of crystals and a full-blown attack. Dietary treatments for the prevention of the condition include restrictions on purine-rich foods and the addition of dark red berries, blueberries, and celery extracts.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

stare31

Uric acid levels causing gout might rise because the body can't get rid of uric acid well enough, or it might also be because the body over produces uric acid.

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    • Full fat dairy products can exacerbate gout.
      Full fat dairy products can exacerbate gout.
    • Many types of meat, especially those high in fat can contribute to gout.
      Many types of meat, especially those high in fat can contribute to gout.
    • Aspirin may aggravate gout symptoms.
      By: blueskies9
      Aspirin may aggravate gout symptoms.
    • A blood test checks for high uric acid levels, which can lead to gout.
      By: Wojciech Sobiech
      A blood test checks for high uric acid levels, which can lead to gout.
    • Gout attacks typically affect a person's big toe.
      By: Alila Medical Media
      Gout attacks typically affect a person's big toe.
    • A gout patient may experience the formation of kidney stones.
      By: airborne77
      A gout patient may experience the formation of kidney stones.
    • Sardines, because they are a source of purines, can aggravate gout.
      By: Picture Partners
      Sardines, because they are a source of purines, can aggravate gout.