Considered the most common type of inflammatory arthritis, gout primarily affects joints in the feet. However, it can also affect other joints, including those in your fingers.
Gout is a type of arthritis that affects more than 3 million people in the United States, according to the American College of Rheumatology.
Learn more about gout in the fingers, including its risk factors, symptoms, and what steps you and a doctor can take to help treat and prevent future flare-ups.
Gout is a very painful type of inflammatory arthritis. It causes swelling, redness, and heat in the affected finger. These symptoms tend to come on suddenly. They peak within a day and gradually begin to improve on their own.
Gout symptoms can come and go as you experience periods of flare-ups and remission. A gout flare-up may last 1 to 2 weeks but then not come back for several months or years afterward.
During a physical exam, a doctor may notice significant red, shiny skin over the affected finger. Other signs of gout may include lumps containing uric acid that form around the affected joints, called tophi. Tophi are more likely to develop after recurring gout flares.
Can you get gout in just one finger?
Yes. It’s possible to have a flare-up in just one finger. Gout
According to the American College of Rheumatology, 50% of new gout cases begin in the big toe, but it’s possible to develop gout in any joint in the body.
High uric acid levels, or hyperuricemia, cause gout. A diet high in purines can lead to hyperuricemia.
Purines are common in red meats and organ meats, as well as sardines, scallops, and tuna. Drinks high in purines include alcohol, particularly beer, and beverages with high fructose corn syrup, such as some juices and soft drinks.
As a result, uric acid can build up and form painful crystals that get stuck in your joints.
However, a high purine diet is not the only cause of gout. Other risk factors for developing uric acid buildup and subsequent gout may include:
- kidney disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- taking certain medications, such as beta-blockers, diuretics, or immunosuppressants
Your risk of developing gout may also be greater if it runs in your family. It’s also more common in men older than 40 and in postmenopausal women.
Talk with a doctor about any sudden and severe pain or swelling in your fingers. While these are potential signs and symptoms of gout, they could also be related to something more serious, such as an infection.
If left untreated, repeated gout flare-ups may increase the risk of permanent joint damage. Hyperuricemia may also lead to kidney stones. However, getting a professional diagnosis and starting treatment can help manage these risks.
A doctor can help diagnose gout by reviewing your physical signs and your symptoms. They may also order some tests. For example, a joint fluid analysis can look for uric acid crystals. A blood test can check for the overall uric acid levels in your body.
Additionally, imaging tests may help confirm the presence of uric acid crystals in your finger joints. X-rays, CT scans, and other imaging tests can also help rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Treatment for an acute gout flare-up in your hands and fingers can include medications to help reduce pain and underlying inflammation. Options include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), either over-the-counter or prescription forms
- colchicine, an oral anti-inflammatory drug doctors specifically prescribe to treat and prevent gout
- corticosteroids, which may be prescribed short term
Additionally, if you have repeat gout flare-ups, a doctor may prescribe medications that reduce uric acid to help prevent tophi. The goal is to stay below 6 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) to help dissolve uric acid crystals and prevent future deposits from forming on your joints.
Surgery may be recommended in severe cases of joint damage in the hands, but this is considered rare.
There’s no cure for gout, but treatment can help prevent future flare-ups and related complications.
While gout symptoms may improve within 12 to 24 hours on their own, it’s still important to visit a doctor for treatment to help prevent future episodes.
When left untreated, gout can recur over your lifetime and eventually start to affect multiple joints in your fingers or hands, or even affect larger joints. Symptoms can also become more severe over time.
Certain medications can also help prevent gout, but you can also consider talking with a doctor about how lifestyle strategies may help. For example, weight management, reducing alcohol intake, and avoiding high fructose corn syrup are all possible strategies.
If a doctor suspects a high purine diet is linked to gout in your fingers, they may recommend you limit red meats and certain fish. Also, while more research is needed, some people benefit from adopting a plant-based, DASH, or Mediterranean diet.
Gout is a common form of arthritis that develops from high uric acid levels. While it usually first affects joints in your feet, such as your big toe, it’s also possible to develop gout in your fingers.
Consider visiting a doctor if you develop sudden and severe pain and swelling in your finger, and if you’re considered high risk for developing gout. Treatment can help reduce symptoms while preventing future flares and possible complications.