Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout are both types of arthritis that can affect the joints and cause painful swelling. Gout typically affects the big toe and foot, while RA can affect other joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis and gout may share some symptoms, but they have different causes and require different treatment plans.

Keep reading to learn the differences in symptoms and management for these two health conditions.

Both RA and gout have some symptoms in common. Both can cause serious disability and negatively affect your quality of life. Symptoms of both RA and gout can include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • joint pain

The symptoms of both conditions also differ in the parts of the body they affect.

Rheumatoid arthritisGout
usually occurs in the small joints of the hands, wrists, and feetusually occurs in the foot, most commonly at the base of the big toe but can also attack the foot and ankle
pain can range mild to severe and generally occurs with stiffnesspain can be intense
can cause stiff jointscan cause heat in the affected area
can affect any joint and is usually symmetrical, affecting the same joints on both sides of the bodypain and swelling typically occur for 1- to 2-week episodes
can cause permanent damage to joint tissue and result in unsteadiness, chronic pain, and misshapen jointsat later stages, may occasionally affect other joints in the body
can affect other organs, such as the lungs, heart, and eyesat later stages, may cause kidney damage

Certain factors can raise your risk of both RA and gout. This can include:

  • smoking
  • overweight or obesity
  • lack of physical activity
  • older age

Rheumatoid arthritis causes

RA occurs when the immune system targets and damages healthy cells. However, researchers do not yet know the underlying cause of RA, which likely results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Additional factors that may increase your risk of RA include:

  • being female
  • having been exposed to cigarette smoke as a child
  • having certain genes, including human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II genotypes
  • being female and not having given birth

Read more about the causes of RA.

Gout causes

Gout occurs when urate (uric acid) builds up in the blood and forms needle-shaped crystals in the joints. The body forms urate when it breaks down purines, a chemical compound in some foods, including:

  • animal proteins (especially organ meats)
  • fish and shellfish
  • beans
  • alcoholic beverages

The body typically removes urates in the urine, but genetic and environmental factors may lead them to build up in your blood. They may then go on to form sharp crystals in the joints, causing inflammation and intense pain.

Additional factors that may increase your risk of gout include:

  • being male
  • having a family history of gout
  • drinking alcohol
  • drinking sugar-sweetened beverages
  • eating a diet rich in purines and low in fruits and vegetables
  • having certain health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and some types of cancers

Read more about the causes and triggers of gout.

Neither RA nor gout has a cure. Treatment of both types of arthritis typically involves preventing flare-ups and managing pain and inflammation when one occurs.

Doctors recommend specific medications for each condition. However, there may be some overlap in recommendations to manage symptoms of pain and inflammation, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids like prednisone (Rayos).

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Doctors typically treat RA with medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologics to slow disease progression and prevent permanent joint damage.

They may also recommend other medications or strategies to relieve pain and prevent or reduce disability.

Read more about how doctors treat RA.

Treatment of gout

If you have gout, doctors may recommend medications to reduce the amount of urate in your body and prevent it from forming crystals. This typically includes:

  • xanthine oxidase inhibitors, such as allopurinol (Aloprim, Zyloprim)
  • uricosuric agents, such as probenecid (Probalan), to help the kidneys remove more urate from the blood
  • colchicine (Colcrys), which is prescribed for pain during a gout flare to prevent inflammation due to crystal formation

In addition to medications, your doctor may recommend dietary changes.

Read more about how doctors treat gout.

While RA and gout both cause joint pain and swelling and can interfere with daily activities, they have different causes and require different treatments.

Gout typically affects the big toe and the foot, while RA tends to affect small joints in the hands.

If you’re having joint pain, a doctor can perform an exam and order tests to confirm a diagnosis.

If you believe you may have gout, it’s best to make an appointment while you have symptoms so that the doctor can accurately diagnose it by checking for crystals in the affected area.

Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you can start a treatment plan to help reduce your symptoms and prevent future recurrences.