Gout is a common and complex form of arthritis that can affect anyone. It's characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints, often the joint at the base of the big toe.
An attack of gout can occur suddenly, often waking you up in the middle of the night with the sensation that your big toe is on fire. The affected joint is hot, swollen and so tender that even the weight of the sheet on it may seem intolerable.
Gout symptoms may come and go, but there are ways to manage symptoms and prevent flares.
The signs and symptoms of gout almost always occur suddenly, and often at night. They include:
If you experience sudden, intense pain in a joint, call your doctor. Gout that goes untreated can lead to worsening pain and joint damage.
Seek medical care immediately if you have a fever and a joint is hot and inflamed, which can be a sign of infection.
Gout occurs when urate crystals accumulate in your joint, causing the inflammation and intense pain of a gout attack. Urate crystals can form when you have high levels of uric acid in your blood.
Your body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines â substances that are found naturally in your body.
Purines are also found in certain foods, such as steak, organ meats and seafood. Other foods also promote higher levels of uric acid, such as alcoholic beverages, especially beer, and drinks sweetened with fruit sugar (fructose).
Normally, uric acid dissolves in your blood and passes through your kidneys into your urine. But sometimes either your body produces too much uric acid or your kidneys excrete too little uric acid. When this happens, uric acid can build up, forming sharp, needlelike urate crystals in a joint or surrounding tissue that cause pain, inflammation and swelling.
Tests to help diagnose gout may include:
People with gout can develop more-severe conditions, such as:
During symptom-free periods, these dietary guidelines may help protect against future gout attacks:
If gout treatments aren't working as well as you'd hoped, you may be interested in trying an alternative approach. Before trying such a treatment on your own, talk with your doctor â to weigh the benefits and risks and learn whether the treatment might interfere with your gout medication.
Because there isn't a lot of research on alternative therapies for gout, however, in some cases the risks aren't known.
Certain foods have been studied for their potential to lower uric acid levels, including:
Coffee. Studies have found an association between coffee drinking â both regular and decaffeinated coffee â and lower uric acid levels, though no study has demonstrated how or why coffee may have such an effect.
The available evidence isn't enough to encourage noncoffee drinkers to start, but it may give researchers clues to new ways of treating gout in the future.
Vitamin C. Supplements containing vitamin C may reduce the levels of uric acid in your blood. However, no studies have demonstrated that vitamin C affects the frequency or severity of gout attacks.
Talk to your doctor about what a reasonable dose of vitamin C may be. And don't forget that you can increase your vitamin C intake by eating more vegetables and fruits, especially oranges.
Cherries. Cherries have been reported to lower levels of uric acid, as well as reduce the number of gout attacks. However, more research needs to be done to confirm this. Eating more cherries and drinking cherry extract may be a safe way to supplement your gout treatment, but discuss it with your doctor first.
Other complementary and alternative medicine treatments may help you cope until your gout pain subsides or your medications take effect. For instance, relaxation techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises and meditation, may help take your mind off your pain.
Medications are often the most effective way to treat acute gout and can prevent recurrent attacks of gout. However, making certain lifestyle changes also are important, such as:
You're more likely to develop gout if you have high levels of uric acid in your body. Factors that increase the uric acid level in your body include: