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Gout is a painful condition that can lead to joint damage and kidney problems. Gout crystals are the underlying cause of gout flare-ups.

Gout crystals form when there is too much uric acid in your bloodstream. The uric acid crystallizes between your joints. This leads to inflammation, swelling, and pain. Breaking down gout crystals and reducing the amount of uric acid in your body can help treat gout flare-ups. These steps can also help prevent future flare-ups from occurring.

Read on to discover more about gout crystals and what you can do about them.

Gout crystals are made up of crystallized uric acid, a chemical that is naturally found in your bloodstream. Your body makes it when you process foods that contain purines. Purines are building blocks that your body needs to make DNA and RNA. They’re found in foods you eat, mainly meat and meat products. Purines are broken down into uric acid.

Normally, your body gets rid of extra uric acid through your kidneys or digestive system. But when there is too much uric acid in your bloodstream, it can build up and form tiny crystals in the spaces between your joints. Crystal buildup can lead to inflammation and a painful condition called gout.

Gout crystals are also called monosodium urate crystals.

Gout crystals that have built up can lead to significant joint pain. The pain might be contained to one joint, or you may feel it in different joints throughout your body. Affected joints will generally be red and swollen.

Gout crystals can sometimes build up and cause visible lumps under your skin. These lumps are called tophi, and they are usually not painful or tender. Over time, however, they can lead to permanent joint damage.

The buildup of uric acid that leads to gout crystals can also lead to problems with your kidneys, including painful kidney stones. You might also have a fever and feel very run down or exhausted. For some people with gout crystals, flare-ups of inflammation are rare and resolve quickly. Other people will experience chronic pain.

Gout crystals form when there is too much uric acid in your bloodstream. You might have trouble getting rid of extra uric acid if you have a metabolic condition such as diabetes or if your kidney function is weakened. Extra uric acid is sometimes also caused by diet and lifestyle factors. For example, people who eat diets of purine-rich foods such as red meats, or who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol, might also develop gout crystals.

Gout crystals can form in any joint in your body, but the base of your big toe is the most common location. This happens because uric acid is very sensitive to temperature. Since your toes are far away from your heart, they are generally the coldest place on your body. This makes it easier for uric acid to crystallize at your toes. Other common locations include your:

  • knees
  • ankles
  • wrists
  • elbows
  • finger joints
  • foot joints

The first step to getting a diagnosis is contacting a doctor. You and your doctor can discuss your symptoms and your medical history. Your doctor will likely want you to have blood work to look for elevated levels of uric acid. You may also need imaging tests such as X-rays and CT scans to look for crystals.

To make a final diagnosis, your doctor will do a test called arthrocentesis. This procedure is done by inserting a needle into the affected joint and removing some joint fluid. You won’t need to have an arthrocentesis every time you have a gout flare-up, but it can help make a diagnosis. You can generally address flare-ups by talking to a doctor about your symptoms and having blood work done.

The first step in treating gout crystals is treating the inflammation and pain they cause. Options to treat the pain of gout crystals include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These might include prescription medications such as Tivorbex or Celebrex or over-the-counter medications such as Aleve or Advil.
  • Corticosteroids. These medications can bring down inflammation. You might take them by mouth or receive an injection.
  • Colchicine. This targeted medication relieves the pain and inflammation caused by gout crystals.

Additional treatments will focus on dissolving crystals and preventing new crystals from forming. This is done by reducing the amount of uric acid in your body. Having less uric acid will allow your body to effectively process the uric acid that is in your bloodstream and break down the gout crystals.

Three types of medication can help reduce uric acid. The right type for you will depend on the severity of your gout crystals and any related health conditions you have. Options include medications designed to:

  • lower the production of uric acid, such as allopurinol
  • increase the amount of uric acid output in urine, such as probenecid
  • break down uric acid, such as pegloticase

Your doctor will also recommend diet and lifestyle changes that can help reduce uric acid production. They might make suggestions for a healthier diet, recommend low-impact exercises, and advise you to avoid alcohol. You can read some gout-friendly meal tips here.

Tips for relieving pain from gout crystals

Gout crystals can cause pain and discomfort. Your doctor can give you medications to help you manage the pain, but you can also take some steps on your own. You might try to:

  • apply ice to your joint
  • elevate your affected joint
  • get a good night’s rest
  • drink plenty of water
  • avoid alcohol or beverages high in sugar
  • avoid seafood, red meat, and other foods high in purines
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Pseudogout is a gout-like condition caused by calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals that form in joint cartilage. The crystals are made of a substance naturally produced by your body called pyrophosphate. Too much pyrophosphate can lead to crystals forming and to pseudogout.

Some people with pseudogout will have no symptoms at all. Other people will have pain, redness, and decreased mobility in affected joints.

Unlike gout, pseudogout generally begins in large joints such as your knees or shoulders. The condition might begin quickly and resolve on its own, or it might be chronic. In some cases, chronic pseudogout can seem a lot like rheumatoid arthritis.

Read this guide for more about how gout and pseudogout compare.

Gout crystals form when there is too much uric acid in your bloodstream. Risk factors that can increase the amount of uric acid in your bloodstream include:

  • having overweight or obesity
  • eating foods high in purine, including organ meats, red meats, and seafood
  • high alcohol consumption
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • taking some blood pressure medications
  • taking low-dose aspirin regularly
  • having a family history of gout
  • having recent surgery, organ transplant, or trauma

Gout crystals can affect people of any gender, but men are more likely to develop them at an early age. In a 2015 research review, most people who developed gout between the ages of 30 and 50 were men. On the other hand, women are more likely to develop gout crystals after menopause.

If you have gout, it’s chronic and can flare any time new gout crystals form. The best way to manage the formation of gout crystals is to manage your body’s production of uric acid.

You can work with your doctor to help keep your uric acid levels low and avoid flare-ups. This will likely include changes to your diet and lifestyle, and might also include taking medication to help your body reduce uric acid.

Gout crystals form when there is too much uric acid in your bloodstream. Uric acid is a naturally occurring substance that your body makes from breaking down foods that contain purine. Too much uric acid can cause crystals to form in your joints. This can lead to inflammation and pain.

You can treat gout crystals by taking medications to help manage your pain and by taking steps to reduce the uric acid in your bloodstream. A doctor can treat you, but they can also recommend you to a physician trained to treat conditions like gout called a rheumatologist. They can work with you to develop the best plan to manage your gout.