Complications of Gout: Gouty Arthritis
What Is Gout?
More than 6 million Americans have had at least one gout attack, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Gout is a type of arthritis you get when your body either makes too much uric acid, or doesn’t release enough of it in the urine. Uric acid is a waste product that is produced when your body breaks down substances called purines. Purines are found naturally in your body, as well as in food.
Acute Gouty Arthritis
Over time, uric acid builds up so much in the blood that it starts to deposit in the joints. These prickly crystals cause very intense pain, swelling, warmth, and tenderness in the joints. Gout attacks can be very uncomfortable, but the pain should subside within three to 10 days, even if you don’t get treated. Gout attacks can come several months, or even years, apart.
Gout and the Joints
Gout usually starts in a single joint—often in the large joint of the big toe. But it can also affect other joints, including joints in the feet, ankles, knees, hands, and wrists. At first, gout may only affect one joint at a time. Attacks may occur from time to time in the foot, knee, or other single joints. As time passes, gout can become chronic and start to affect several joints at once.
Chronic Gouty Arthritis
Over time, the constant buildup of uric acid can wear away at the joints. This damage occurs very slowly. Sometimes, it can take 10 years for the joints to become seriously affected. Because the kidneys remove uric acid from the body, the buildup can damage them as well. Seeing your doctor and getting treated for gout can prevent it from worsening and leaving the joints permanently damaged.
Preventing Gout Complications
Treatment can both relieve gout pain and swelling, and prevent gout from permanently damaging the joints. Steroids, colchicine, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that reduce the amount of swelling in the joints. Eating fewer foods that contain purines can help reduce the amount of uric acid in your body. And medicines such as allopurinol (Zyloprim) or febuxostat (Uloric) prevent uric acid from building up in the blood.
Diet and Gout Flares
One way to treat gout is by avoiding foods that are high in purines. These foods include liver and kidneys, anchovies, asparagus, dried beans and peas, gravy, mackerel, scallops, mushrooms, and anchovies. It also helps to drink a lot of water and other fluids. Avoid alcohol—especially beer—because it can also raise uric acid levels in the blood.
Weight Loss and Exercise
Being overweight can make your gout worse. Losing weight slowly over time is an effective way to lower the amount of uric acid in your blood. A good weight-loss strategy is to eat a sensible diet, which is high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated and trans fats. Regular exercise can help you lose weight and keep your joints mobile.
See Your Doctor
Your doctor can help you find a treatment to prevent painful gout attacks, and stop the disease from becoming chronic and damaging your joints. You may need to see a rheumatologist—a doctor who specializes in treating arthritis. Your healthcare team may also include other specialists, including a podiatrist to help you care for your feet when you have gout attacks.
- Gout. (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from http://www.arthritis.org/conditions-treatments/disease-center/gout/
- Gout. (2011, August). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/gout.htm
- Questions and Answers About Gout. (2012, April). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Gout/