What is gout?

Gout is a type of arthritis that causes pain and swelling in your joints, usually as flares that last for a week or two, and then go away. Gout flares often begin in your big toe or a lower limb.

Gout happens when high levels of a substance called serum urate build up in your body. When this happens, needle-shaped crystals form in and around the joint. This leads to inflammation and arthritis of the joint. However, many people with high levels of serum urate will not develop gout.

With early diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle changes, gout is one of the most controllable forms of arthritis.

Who gets gout?

Many people develop gout:

  • It is more common in men than in women.
  • Gout usually develops in middle age; women usually do not develop gout before menopause.
  • Rarely, younger people develop the disease; however, if they do, the disease tends to be worse.

What are the symptoms of gout?

The most common symptom of gout is pain in the affected joint, such as the big toe. Gout flares often start suddenly at night, and the intense pain may wake you up. In addition, your joint may feel swollen, red, warm, and stiff.

Gout flares usually occur in one joint. They can be triggered by:

  • Certain foods.
  • Alcohol.
  • Certain medications.
  • Physical trauma.
  • Certain illnesses.

Flares typically get better over a week or two. In between flares, you usually don’t have symptoms. Some people may have frequent flares, while others may not have another flare for years. However, over time, if left untreated, your flares may last longer and happen more often.

Some people with gout may be more likely to develop other conditions or complications, especially with the heart and kidneys.

What causes gout?

Gout happens when urate, a substance in your body, builds up and forms needle-shaped crystals in your joints. This leads to:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Redness
  • Changes in how you move and use the affected joint.

The following factors can make it more likely for you to develop gout:

  • High urate levels; however, not everyone who has high levels develops gout.
  • A family history of gout.
  • Being older.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Eating foods that are rich in purines (usually from animal sources), a substance that breaks down into urate.
  • Drinking beverages that have high-fructose corn syrup, such as soda.
  • Some health conditions, such as overweight or obesity, high blood pressure, and chronic kidney disease.
  • Some medications.