What is gout?
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. For many people, gout begins in the big toe. However, other joints can be affected, including the ankles, heels, knees, wrists, fingers and elbows.1
Unlike other types of arthritis, gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body. This build-up of uric acid can lead to deposits of urate crystals around the joints. Once they form in the joints, these crystals can cause redness, swelling, stiffness and intense pain.1
The excess uric acid can result in tophi (TOE-fye), which look like small white or yellow lumps under the skin. These lumps usually appear around the joints and sometimes in the rim of the ear. Excess uric acid can also collect in the kidneys and lead to kidney stones. Because the uric acid builds up over time, symptoms may take months or even years to appear.1
Your first gout flare might last three to 10 days. Months or years may pass before another flare occurs. Eventually, however, gout flares become more frequent and painful.1
What causes gout?
Gout has a number of potential causes, including:
- Genetics. For many people with gout, it is hereditary. This is true of approximately 20 to 80 percent of people with gout.1
- Gender. Although women can be affected by gout, it is more common in men.1
- Weight. Being overweight increases the risk of uric acid build-up in the body. This is because there is more tissue available for turnover or breakdown, which can cause excess uric acid production.1
- Alcohol consumption. Because drinking alcohol interferes with the removal of uric acid from the body, uric acid can build up and cause flares.1 Alcohol also contains purines, which are naturally occurring substances the body breaks down into uric acid.1,2 The excess uric acid can build up and trigger gout flares.1
- Diet. Consuming too many foods or beverages that are rich in purines can cause or trigger a gout flare. Foods that are high in purines include red meat, organ meats and certain kinds of seafood.1
- Lead exposure. Exposure to lead can cause gout or make existing gout worse.1
- Other health problems. Because uric acid leaves the body through the kidneys, renal insufficiency (the inability of the kidneys to eliminate waste products) is a common cause of gout in older adults. Other medical problems linked to gout include high blood pressure, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), certain cancers (or other medical conditions that cause rapid cell growth) and Kelley-Seegmiller syndrome or Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (rare conditions in which the enzyme that helps control uric acid levels is either absent or insufficient).1
- Certain medicines. A number of different medicines can cause hyperuricemia and gout, including diuretics, aspirin (and other salicylate-containing drugs), niacin, cyclosporine and levodopa.1
What does a gout flare feel like?
An acute gout flare often occurs at night and can cause sudden intense pain and swelling. The affected joint may also be warm, stiff and very tender. A gout flare usually subsides within three to 10 days.1