Gout refers to an inflammatory arthritis of the joints. Inflammatory arthritis is a medical term that means swelling of the joints associated with features of inflammation such as pain, redness and heat. There are many causes of inflammatory arthritis, including infections from bacteria and viruses. In gout, crystals of uric acid form in and around the joints of the body, especially at the level of the big toe. The condition usually leads to severe, painful attacks that may interfere with your daily routine.
Gout is more common in men than women, affecting about 6 million men and 2 million women in the U.S. In the United Kingdom, gout is estimated to be present in about 2 people out of every 100. Women affected by gout have usually gone through menopause, leading to the conclusion that estrogen levels (which reduce uric acid levels in the blood) are protective in women. Men also have higher uric acid levels in their blood compared to women, a factor that increases the risk of developing gout.
Risk factors for Gout
The following are some of the risk factors that will increase the probability of developing gouty arthritis:
- Genetic predisposition: a history of gout in your family means that you have a higher risk of being affected.
- Concomitant health conditions: the presence of diseases and conditions such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels in the blood), diabetes and heart diseases such as coronary artery disease will all increase the likelihood of being affected by gout.
- Kidney problems: an inefficient renal system impairs the excretion and elimination of uric acid from the body. This will lead to retention of more uric acid than normal, thus predisposing an individual to hyperuricemia (increased blood levels of uric acid) which is necessary for the formation of uric crystals and the development of gout.
- Medication: drugs that are used by hypertensive patients such as diuretics increase the amount of water excreted by the kidneys every day. While this might help reduce blood pressure, it may also raise blood levels of uric acid.
- Diet and lifestyle: consumption of alcohol, especially in large amounts over a long period of time increases your risk for gout. This means that more than two alcoholic drinks in a day is bad for you. The fructose found in sodas also plays a role in being affected.
Signs and Symptoms of Gout
While it is true that any joint can be affected, there are some common joints such as those found at the toes and knees that are going to present with signs and symptoms of gout. These include:
- Pain that is severe and debilitating (it stops you from carrying out your normal routine).
- Joint swelling.
- Red discoloration of the skin overlying the joint.
Signs and symptoms are usually as a result of acute changes of uric acid levels in the blood, and usually develop rapidly and last for about 3-10 days. Treatment of gout requires a visit to a licensed medical practitioner and the administration of drugs that help deal with the pain and high uric acid levels.