Gout is a particularly painful type of arthritis that results from high blood levels of a compound called uric acid, which forms when your body breaks down purine, a substance common in foods such as dried beans and peas, asparagus, salmon, organ meats and mushrooms. Gout occurs when the body does not break down uric acid the way it should. Sometimes the body will produce an excess of uric acid, or the kidneys will not filter out enough.
High levels of uric acid can cause sharp, needle-like crystals to grow in between joints, causing redness, swelling, warmth and severe pain. While the big toe is the most common site for gout, the feet, ankles, knees, hands and wrists also may be affected. Fortunately, this uric acid buildup can be controlled through medication.
The first gout attack typically goes away after one to two weeks without treatment, or one to two days with treatment. If you do not receive treatment, a second attack may occur anywhere from six month to two years later. If you still do not receive treatment, you may continue to have attacks that probably will last longer, affect more joints and be more painful. Severe, chronic gout may lead to joint deformity.
Gout can affect almost anyone, although it occurs mainly in men. Fatigue and emotional stress can trigger a gout attack, as can minor surgery or illness.
Other risk factors for gout include:
- Consumption of alcohol, especially beer
- Genetics – Many people with gout have a family history of the disease. Children of parents with gout have a 20 percent chance for developing the condition.
- Being overweight
- Older age – Uric acid levels increase at puberty in men and at menopause in women. Men are more likely to develop gout when they are 30 to 50 years old, while women are more likely to develop the condition when they are 50 to 70 years old. Gout is extremely uncommon in premenopausal women.
- Taking certain medications, including diuretics, aspirin and niacin
People with kidney problems also are more likely to develop gout because the kidneys normally filter out excess uric acid. Other medical problems that have been linked to gout include hypertension (high blood pressure), an underactive thyroid and psoriasis.
Symptoms of gout can be treated. Medications and lifestyle changes can help prevent gout attacks from recurring.