Gout is a very painful condition that is a form of arthritis. It comes in sudden attacks and can cause severe pain as small crystals form in and around the joints. It can be reasonably common, affecting one or two people out of every hundred. Although it affects both men and women, it is more prevalent in men and usually affects those over thirty.
When gout strikes, it can be tremendously painful and debilitating, so it's essential that you seek treatment. What's more, there are also steps you can take to prevent gout from attacking in the future.
What is Gout?
Gout is a form of arthritis that is created by the build-up of uric acid in the blood. Too much uric acid in the system means it is too difficult for the kidneys to filter out. It then builds up, forming small sharp crystals in and around joints, usually in the feet, but can be found in knees and fingers too.
The crystals cause the joint to become inflamed, sore, red and swollen as well as making the joint extremely painful to move.
How Do You Tell If You Have Gout?
Gout can affect any joint in the body, but it is most commonly found in the feet. Symptoms will develop quickly, and you'll see the pain increase over a few hours. Some of the common signs of gout in the affected joint include;
- Shiny skin on the joint
- Red and tender to touch joint
- The affected joint feels hot and swollen
- Severe pain and difficult mobility
The pain and symptoms will pass over time, but an attack of gout will usually last from three days up to a fortnight. Once the pain has gone, the joint function should return to normal.
How to Diagnose Gout
If you suspect you have gout, but have never had it before, it is best to see your GP for a proper diagnosis. There are other medical conditions which may have similar symptoms, so it is best to get it checked out, in case you require urgent treatment.
It is also important to see your GP if gout doesn't show signs of improving or if you have a high temperature as well.
Once your gout is diagnosed, your GP will probably prescribe medication, if this doesn't help the gout within a few days, then make sure you return to your GP.
Are You at High Risk of a Gout Attack?
As gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid, there are risk factors that can make you more susceptible to gout and at an increased risk of building up uric acid in the blood.
Seven factors that can increase the risk of getting gout include;
1. Being overweight
2. Having diabetes
3. Close family suffering from gout
4. Eating lots of red meat, seafood and offal
5. Excessive drinking of beer and spirits
6. Having pre-existing kidney problems
7. Having high blood pressure.
Complications of Gout
If gout isn't treated correctly, it can lead to further medical conditions. With this in mind, it's essential to seek the right help and manage your gout attack properly.
Gout can lead to problems such as Tophi, which is where small lumps form under the skin of the joint. Tophi is relatively painless, but can develop in irritating places, which can make some daily tasks more difficult. Unlike gout, the lumps will remain and may need to be surgically removed if they become large.
Other complications include kidney stones which interfere with the flow of urine. This can consist of making it painful to pass urine or making you feel the need to urinate more often. If you have kidney stones, your GP will prescribe you medication to help dissolve the stones.
Gout can also affect you psychologically. As gout can make everyday tasks difficult because of the severe pain, this can then create feelings of despair and low mood culminating in depression and anxiety.
How to Treat Gout
Ordinarily, GPs will prescribe medication to help to relieve the pain felt during a gout attack. A GP will usually offer a remedy such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are typically provided for the first treatment of gout. The drugs can help to reduce the pain and inflammation and should help you throughout a gout attack.
NSAIDs do come with some risks and side effects. They can cause stomach bleeding, ulcers and indigestion. If these side effects are high-risk, then you may also be prescribed a proton pump inhibitor to help you take the NSAIDs while reducing the risk of these conditions.
If NSAIDs do not work or you are unable to take them, then doctors may choose alternative medication such as corticosteroids or colchicine.
If the pain is not so severe, Ibuprofen can also be very effective in reducing the swelling and alleviating the pain.
Should you suffer from complications of gout or have regular gout attacks, then your doctor may recommend urate-lowering therapy (ULT). This is usually a medication that you have to take daily to reduce the production of uric acid in the body. This will come with potential side effects, and you will have to have regular blood tests to check that you are receiving an adequate dose. For some people, it can take up to two years of ULT before no further gout attacks occur.
10 Ways to Manage a Gout Attack
To prevent further gout attacks or to reduce the severity of gout, there are ways in which you can control the levels of uric acid in your body. These include;
1. Stay hydrated
2. Reduce the consumption of beer
3. Cut down or avoid drinking spirits
4. Keep a healthy and balanced diet
5. Take up low-impact exercises
6. Don't use crash diets and maintain a healthy weight
7. Avoid sugar (steer clear of processed sugary drinks and foods)
8. Cut down your consumption or red meat and offal (high in purine, which creates uric acid)
9. Reduce the amount of oily fish and seafood that you eat (also high in purine)
10. Consider vitamin C supplements (consult your GP first).
By making healthy lifestyle changes such as these, you can lower the risk of gout attacks in the future.