Gout is an inflammatory condition in which crystals build up in the body and cause joints to become extremely painful. It is one of a few types of arthritis where future damage in joints can be avoided by treatment.
We all have some uric acid in our blood, but most of us pass enough uric acid in our urine to keep down the amount in our blood. However, some people don’t pass enough, or they produce more in the first place, so the level of uric acid in blood and tissue fluids is higher. When there is too much uric acid in the tissues, it can form crystals. These crystals can form in and around joints and, if the crystals enter the joint space, they can cause inflammation, swelling and severe pain.
Gout commonly attacks the joints at the base of the big toe, but it may affect other joints, such as the ankles, knees, hands, wrists or elbows.
How will it affect me?
The affected joint starts to ache, then quickly becomes swollen, red and extremely painful. The attack usually lasts for a few days, then dies down, after which the joint gradually returns to normal.
How is it treated?
Very bad (acute) attacks of gout are usually treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or with a steroid drug called colchicine. These drugs help reduce inflammation and so cut down the pain.
Some people may take preventative drugs – such as allopurinol or febuxostat – every day for the rest of their lives, in order to stop uric acid levels building up in the body. Having a good diet and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the chances of a gout attack. There is evidence to suggest that alcohol (particularly beer), liver and kidney, tinned fish and shellfish can all worsen symptoms of gout.