Understanding gout: causes, symptoms and treatment
We break down the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this joint condition.
Picture this: you’re sitting at home, feet up, watching TV and all of a sudden, your foot feels like it’s been struck by lightning – that pain could be gout.
In this blog, we talk through:
- What is gout?
- What causes gout?
- What are the symptoms of gout?
- Am I at risk of developing gout?
- What is the treatment for gout?
- How can I monitor my uric acid levels?
What is gout?
Gout is the inflammation of a joint and is classed as a type of arthritis. During flares of gout, the affected joint becomes red and swollen. It’s an extremely painful condition and can affect any joint.
What causes gout?
Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood.
Uric acid is a waste product that your body produces when it breaks down certain foods, especially those high in purines.
Foods high in purines include :
- Alcoholic drinks
- Some fish, seafood, and shellfish (such as sardines, herring, mussels, and haddock)
- Certain meats (such as bacon, turkey, veal, venison, and liver)
If you produce too much uric acid or your kidneys don’t filter enough out, it can start to form crystals (which are not nearly as sparkly or as glamorous as they sound). These crystals then accumulate in your joints, often in your big toe – leading to a red, swollen, and very tender joint.
What are the symptoms of gout?
Because gout is caused by joint irritation and inflammation, symptoms will tend to appear in one particular joint, such as a joint in your:
- Big toe
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Severe pain in one or more joints
- A hot and tender joint
- Swelling in or around a joint
- Red skin over a joint
Symptoms tend to develop rapidly over a few hours (and typically last three to 10 days). And almost everyone with gout will experience further attacks at some point, usually within the year .
Am I at risk of developing gout?
There are certain things that could increase your chances of getting gout, including:
- High blood pressure
- Having a close relative with gout
- Taking water tablets, such as furosemide
- Chronic kidney disease
- A diet rich in purine
What is the treatment for gout?
During an acute flare of gout, your doctor may treat you with painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications or steroids to help control the pain and swelling.
Keeping the limb cool (with things such as ice packs) and elevated can also provide some temporary relief.
Gout often returns, so it’s important to take steps to prevent it from recurring.
How can I prevent gout from coming back?
If you’ve been diagnosed with gout, there are ways to prevent an attack. Firstly, some lifestyle changes may help.
Lifestyle changes to help treat gout include:
- Cutting back on purine-rich foods and drinks – such as meat and alcohol. Cutting back on these can help to bring your uric acid levels down and help you on your journey towards happy, pain-free toes.
- Staying hydrated – water is like a superhero that can help to flush out uric acid crystals. So, drink up, your joints will thank you for it.
- Medication – in some cases, your doctor may prescribe some medication to ease pain and inflammation.
- Monitor your uric acid level – monitoring your level after lifestyle changes can help you to see what’s working (or in some cases, not working). So, that you can make informed decisions about your next steps.
Some people may benefit from taking medications that lower uric acid levels, such as allopurinol. These can prevent an attack by keeping uric acid levels within a target range.
How can I monitor my uric acid level?
Your doctor may monitor your uric acid level if you’ve been diagnosed with gout, especially if you’re taking medications to lower your uric acid level. Blood test may be required every few months at first, but can be repeated less frequently when uric acid levels are stable.
You can monitor your uric acid levels from the comfort of your own home with our Uric Acid Blood Test.
- Safe foods for gout: Arthritis foundation (no date) Safe Foods for Gout | Arthritis Foundation. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/healthy-eating/which-foods-are-safe-for-gout (Accessed: 24 July 2023).
- Gout (no date) NHS inform. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/conditions/gout (Accessed: 24 July 2023).