What is Gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis that causes pain and swelling in the joints. At first, it tends to affect only one joint — most frequently in the big toe. It happens in people who have too much uric acid in the blood.

Uric acid is a chemical that is produced when the body breaks down certain foods. It can form sharp needle-like crystals that build up in the joints and cause pain. Uric acid crystals can also form inside the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. These crystals can turn into “kidney stones” that can cause pain and problems with the flow of urine.

Symptoms of gout include:

  • Sudden attacks of severe pain in a joint, such as the big toe, ankle or knee
  • Redness and swelling of the painful joint

Usually, only one joint is affected, but some people have pain in more than one joint. The pain from gout can be extreme. Pain and swelling are worst at the beginning of a gout attack. The symptoms then typically get better within a few days to weeks. It is not clear how the body “turns off” a gout attack.

Your doctor or nurse will take a sample of fluid from the affected joint. If he or she finds uric acid crystals in the fluid, then you have gout.

Your doctor or nurse might be able to tell you have gout, even without checking fluid from a joint if:

  • You have had pain and swelling in one joint, especially the joint at the base of the big toe.
  • Your symptoms completely go away between attacks, at least when you first start having them.
  • Your blood tests show high levels of uric acid.

If you think you have gout, call your doctor right away. Gout medicines work best if you take them as soon as symptoms start. If you have recurring attacks of gout, if possible, keep medicine that works for you on hand so you don’t have to wait for relief.

Talk to your doctor about what medicine would be right for you.