What to expect
Gout is a type of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid in the joints. It’s characterized by sudden and severe pain in the joints. It usually affects the joint at the base of the big toe, but can also affect the joints of the fingers, elbows, wrists, or knees. An episode of gout usually lasts for about 3 days with treatment and up to 14 days without treatment. If left untreated, you’re more likely to have new episodes more frequently, and it can lead to worsening pain and even joint damage.
During an episode of gout, you’ll experience intense joint pain. Once the initial pain has passed, you can have lingering discomfort. The joint will also usually be inflamed and red, and you may have limited movement in that area.
You may experience frequent episodes of gout, which could lead to chronic gout and permanent joint damage. You may also develop tiny, white and painful lumps under your skin. This is where urate crystals have formed.
Gout is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, or colchicine, but there are also certain lifestyle choices that may reduce the duration of an episode of gout, including:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- having at least two alcohol free days per week
- drinking at least two litres of water per day
- exercising regularly (be careful not to put excess pressure on joints)
- stopping smoking
- taking vitamin C supplements
Read on to learn more about managing and preventing this condition.
Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), should be taken as soon as you experience a flare-up. This medication can be purchased over the counter. If you have a history of gout, make sure you always have anti-inflammatory medication. That way, if you have an episode, you can take medication as soon as symptoms begin.
The anti-inflammatory medication should begin to work within three days. In the meantime, the following home remedies may help:
- rest and elevate the affected foot
- keep the joint cool by applying an ice pack for up to 20 minutes
- drink plenty of water
- try not to let your bed clothes touch the joint at night, which may irritate it
If the episode has not subsided after three days, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe steroids, either in tablet form or as an injection.
If you have frequent flare-ups, your doctor will probably want to test your blood to check the level of uric acid. If you test positive for a high level of uric acid, then you may be prescribed allopurinol (Zyloprim, Lopurin) or febuxostat (Uloric), which can lower these levels if taken long term.
Uric acid is produced by the body when it breaks down a chemical called purine. It’s then eliminated from the body in urine. Purine is found in our bodies naturally, but it’s also found in many foods. Following a gout diet low in purine may help reduce the frequency of gout flare-ups.
A gout diet is the same as most diets. It recommends you eat in a balanced and healthy way. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important as being overweight increases your likelihood for gout flare-ups. Being overweight also increases the intensity of flare-ups and makes them harder to manage.
If you have a history of gout, these foods may help control your uric acid levels and reduce your risk for flare-ups:
- fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that provide complex carbohydrates
- low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- any food which is rich in Vitamin C.
You should also limit or avoid these foods:
- white bread
- sugary snacks and drinks
- red meats and fatty poultry
- full-fat dairy products
- liver and kidney
- some seafoods, including anchovies, herring, sardines, mussels, scallops, trout, haddock, mackerel and tuna
Call your doctor if you’re experiencing a sudden and intense pain in one of your joints for the first time. A diagnosis of gout is important so that you can know how to effectively treat it. Once diagnosed, your doctor will give you lots of advice on how to manage the condition should it return.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have a fever and a red or inflamed joint. This could be a sign of an infection, which may require treatment.
Making healthy lifestyle choices will not only help to manage the intensity of the pain of gout during a flare-up, but it can also prevent future episodes from occurring. If you do have a flare-up, take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine as soon as your symptoms begin, and rest and ice the affected joint. Talk to your doctor if symptoms do not improve within three days of treatment or if this is your first time experiencing these symptoms.