Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that causes pain due to uric acid crystals. The condition creates pain and swelling in one or more joints, typically affecting the feet or big toe. It can also occur in other joints, such as the ankle, hand, elbow or wrist. Gout can affect any person, but it tends to occur earlier in men than in women. Women who experience the condition usually do so after they’ve gone through menopause. Men also have higher uric acid levels than women, making them more likely to experience inflammation. Below, you’ll learn how to spot the condition, what causes it, and how to fix and prevent gout attacks.
Symptoms of GoutEpisodes of gout are typically called “gout attacks” and can happen suddenly, usually overnight. These attacks are often painful, and symptoms in the affected joints include:
- Intense pain
- Tenderness, even from a very light touch
- Warmth or feeling like the affected joint is burning
What Causes Gout?Bodies generate uric acid by breaking down chemicals, known as purines, after consuming specific foods or drinks. Usually, this byproduct is filtered through the kidneys and leaves the body when using the bathroom. Sometimes, our bodies make too much uric acid or our kidneys can’t appropriately handle the chemical. This can lead to high uric acid levels, which form crystals that concentrate in various joints. These sharp crystals can cause gout. Some people with high uric acid levels will never get gout. As mentioned above, men are more likely to experience gout than women. Others are more likely to get gout if they are or have:
- Overweight or obese
- Kidney disease
- Congestive heart failure
- A family history of gout
How to Fix GoutMost treatments to fix a gout attack are prescribed or overseen by a medical professional. However, you can also use some methods at home to help find relief. Below are a few professional and at-home gout treatments you can try to start feeling better:
- Use cold compresses: If your gout attack is mild or moderate with no extreme symptoms, a cold compress could help you find relief. Use a cold pack or compress on the joint to soothe the pain and reduce inflammation. Wrap the compress in a thin towel and keep it applied for no more than 20 minutes at a time, several times daily or as needed. Avoid applying ice to your hands or feet if you have health conditions that affect the nerves, such as diabetes.
- Take it easy: One of the best things you can do when you have a gout attack is rest — you likely won’t want to move the affected joint much, anyway. You can also try to raise the affected joint with a pillow or similar to help with any swelling or pain.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): One way to tackle gout attack pain is by taking over-the-counter (OTC) medication to reduce inflammation, such as ibuprofen.
- Talk to your doctor: If you talk to your doctor about gout pain, they may recommend medications such as colchicine, an anti-inflammatory drug that can reduce pain. You can also ask your doctor about corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which you can take orally or through injections to reduce inflammation and pain.
How to Prevent GoutYou can make some lifestyle changes to help you prevent gout or flare-ups. Some of these changes include:
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is essential to improve kidney functions and avoid dehydration. Maintaining hydration throughout the day may help prevent gout from occurring.
- Get regular exercise: It’s essential to limit the amount of uric acid in your body to prevent gout. Being overweight or obese can increase the uric acid in your body and stress your joints, contributing to gout attacks. Exercising regularly to manage weight could help prevent the onset of gout.
- Make dietary changes: Some foods contain purines, which can contribute to uric acid buildup. If you struggle with gout attacks or want to prevent them from occurring, avoid food and drinks with purines, such as red meat, shellfish and alcohol. You should also avoid drinks high in fructose and protein from animal sources since they can lead to increased uric acid levels.
- Switch medications: Some medications can raise uric acid levels, including diuretics and immunosuppressants. Talk to your doctor if you’re on these medications to see if you can find better alternatives that won’t raise uric acid levels. Your doctor might also prescribe medications like allopurinol or febuxostat, which block uric acid production if you’re prone to frequent attacks.
When Should You See a Doctor for GoutIf you have gout or gout attacks, it’s always best to let your doctor know. Inform your doctor if your current treatment plan isn’t working, if your pain and inflammation have worsened or if you meet any of the following criteria:
- You’re experiencing a gout attack for the first time: If you’ve never had a gout attack before and suspect you are, you should talk to your doctor. Other conditions, such as joint infections, have similar symptoms. Your doctor can help rule out other conditions and devise a treatment plan to help handle pain and inflammation.
- You have chills and high fever: Gout attacks sometimes occur alongside a mild fever. However, if you have a high fever and chills, it could be a sign of an infection, which should be dealt with as soon as possible.
- Your symptoms don’t improve: If you’re trying a specific treatment that doesn’t improve after 48 hours or dissipates in a week, call your doctor. They may recommend a different treatment plan to help alleviate your pain. Most gout attacks go away on their own in several weeks, even without treatment, but your doctor can help you find ways to manage symptoms in the meantime.