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Gout: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
|This content is for information purposes only and is not provided with the
intention of diagnosing a condition or illness. You should speak to a medical professional for diagnosis.
Gout is a common form of arthritis characterised by repeated attacks of extreme joint pain, swelling, and redness1. It occurs when uric acid, a normal waste product, builds up in your bloodstream and forms crystals in a joint1.
Gout mainly affects men over 40 years of age2. It’s usually found in the big toe but can affect the hands, fingers, wrists, knees, feet, ankles, elbows or any other joint2.
What causes gout?
Gout occurs when uric acid builds up in your bloodstream and forms urate crystals in a joint. Your body makes uric acid when it breaks down purines, a substance that’s found in your body and some foods1.
Uric acid usually dissolves in your blood, is processed by your kidneys and leaves your body in urine1; however, if your body makes too much uric acid or your kidneys can’t process enough of it, it builds up in your blood. Excess uric acid can form urate crystals in the joints which cause sudden and severe inflammation2.
What are the symptoms of gout?
An attack of gout usually comes on very quickly, often overnight3. The affected joint will be red, swollen and extremely painful – often too sore to even touch3. The skin around the joint may look red and shiny and could be hot to touch.
Gout may be acute or chronic4. Acute gout is characterised by sudden attacks of the condition that may last for days or weeks and are followed by long periods without any symptoms. If these “flares” occur in the same joint over many years and the underlying excess of uric acid is not controlled, gout can become chronic4.
How is gout diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you may have gout, they may take a sample of fluid from the affected joint to check for uric acid crystals under a microscope2. Often, the diagnosis of gout is obvious, especially if you’ve had it before.
Early diagnosis and treatment is important so that the level of uric acid in your blood can be reduced so that it can’t form crystals in your joints1.
What are the risk factors for gout?
According to the Victorian government, you’re more likely to have a gout attack if you1:
- Are male
- Have a family history of gout
- Have elevated levels of uric acid
- Have type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol
- Are overweight or obese
- Drink too much alcohol (particularly beer)
- Use diuretics
- Crash diet or fast
Do certain foods cause gout?
There are many misconceptions about diet and gout – for example, many people believe that citrus foods cause gout, however there is no evidence that this is true5.
Several studies have shown that people who have gout are more likely to eat certain foods that contain high levels of purines (of which uric acid is a by-product). Purine-rich foods include5:
- Meat: particularly red meat and liver, kidneys, and heart
- Seafood: particularly shellfish, scallops, mussels, herring, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies
- Foods containing yeast such as Vegemite and beer
While people with gout have been found to be more likely to eat these foods, there’s little scientific evidence to suggest that avoiding these foods can reduce gout attacks5. In fact, you may miss out on important nutrients and vitamins if you cut these foods from your diet. For most people with gout, a healthy balanced diet and medication to reduce uric acid levels is all that’s required5.
Does drinking alcohol make gout worse?
Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of a gout attack as it can raise the level of uric acid in your blood5. If you suffer from gout, it’s sensible to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink and avoid binge drinking.
How common is gout?
Less than 1% of Australians have gout, with males making up 80% of the people with gout4.
How is gout treated?
The first step in treating gout is to get the pain and inflammation under control. This may include painkillers, icing, and rest.
Once your attack has subsided, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce your pain and inflammation and lower the level of uric acid in your blood. These may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), febuxostat, allopurinol or probenecid1.
How can I avoid getting gout?
According to the Victorian government, you can reduce your chance of having a gout attack by1:
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Drinking plenty of water
What’s the relationship between gout and kidney stones?
Gout can cause kidney stones – rock-like masses of crystals that form in the kidneys6. They can block the flow of urine and cause infection, kidney damage or even kidney failure, and can vary in size and location1.
There are four major types of kidney stones – uric acid stones are the variety associated with gout. If you think you may have kidney stones you should see your GP immediately.
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