Gout is a form of arthritis once referred to as the “disease of kings,” because people erroneously associated it with the savory meats and wine only the rich could afford.
It causes inflammation in the joints like any other form of arthritis, but the causes are different than osteoarthritis (wear and tear of the joint cartilage) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune response).
Gout is the result of uric acid crystals building up in the joint space, causing painful inflammation.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, our team of board-certified foot and ankle specialists offers safe and effective treatments for gout and other podiatric conditions.
Because gout isn’t as well-known as other forms of arthritis, we put together this guide to help you recognize the five primary symptoms so you’ll know when to come in for diagnosis and treatment.
The causes of gout
Uric acid comes from the body’s breakdown of purines — compounds found naturally in the body as well as in some foods. Normally your kidneys filter it out of your blood and flush it from your system through urine.
But if your diet has a high level of purines or if your kidneys can’t remove the uric acid effectively, the waste product builds up and deposits needle-like crystals in the joints.
While any joint can be affected, some 50% of first-time attacks affect the big toe.
Some foods, drinks, and medications can raise your body’s uric acid levels, leading to gout attacks. These include:
- Red meat and organ meats such as liver
- Too much alcohol
- Sugary drinks
- Foods high in fructose
- Low-dose aspirin
- Some diuretics (water pills)
- Immunosuppressants used in organ transplants
Additional risk factors include obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and stress.
Once the crystals have built up in the joint, they attract the immune system’s white blood cells. That leads to inflammation, severe pain, and chronic disease. These crystals may also collect in the urinary tract, causing kidney stones.
5 symptoms of gout
Gout causes sudden bouts of symptoms, often in the middle of the night. The five primary symptoms are:
- Intense joint pain that’s worst for first 4-12 hours
- Joint inflammation causing swelling and tenderness
- Redness around the joint
- Warmth in the joint
- Limited range of motion as the disease progresses
The first symptoms of a gout attack are usually severe episodes of pain and swelling inside a single joint, often the big toe, which can also be red and warm to the touch.
The pain is often so intense that even a light breeze can seem intolerable. Many people with gout also experience symptoms that last for days or weeks after a flare-up.
Diagnosing and treating gout
At your evaluation, we examine your feet thoroughly and use imaging tests to determine the exact nature of your foot pain. If we determine you have gout, we start by treating it with medication, which for acute attacks can include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to alleviate pain and inflammation
- Colchicine to reduce gout pain
- Corticosteroids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties
In addition, we may prescribe medications to block uric acid production, and/or medications to increase uric acid removal.
If you’re experiencing joint pain, especially if it starts in your big toe, it’s time to come into Chicagoland Foot and Ankle for an evaluation to determine if gout is the cause. Contact us today. We have locations in Chicago, Orland Park, and New Lenox, Illinois.