8 Silent Signs of Gout You Might Ignore
Because it has long been linked to overindulgence in meat and alcohol—once luxuries few could afford—gout earned the name “disease of kings.” But gout, which is a form of arthritis, can affect anyone.
What causes gout?
Gout occurs when you have a buildup of uric acid in your blood. Uric acid is a waste product that results from normal body processes, and normally dissolves in the blood. It passes through the kidneys and out of the body in urine, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. But when the body produces too much uric acid, or the kidneys cannot get rid of it fast enough, the excess acid might form crystals in your joints. This causes gout. If you are taking a medication that increases the level of uric acid in your bloodstream, or have a family history of high levels of uric acid, you are more likely to get gout, says Eric Ruderman, MD, a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Check out these natural gout treatments for pain and swelling.
Gout symptom: swollen big toe
The first symptom of gout is usually a sudden episode of painful swelling due to the crystallization of uric acid, and occurs most often in the joint of the big toe. Hyon Choi, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, says the pain can be so severe it feels like a bone has been broken. “It often happens abruptly in the middle of the night and is so intense you can’t put a bed sheet on top of it,” he says. “Even the lightest touches create a huge pain.” Dr. Choi says the swelling occurs in the big toe, which becomes warm, red, and swollen, because it’s the furthest joint from the heart, where the body temperature is the lowest and crystals are more likely to deposit. The gout attacks can last a few days or even a few weeks before the pain goes away, and another episode might not occur for months or years. These are other strange things that can happen to your body while you sleep.
Gout symptom: other swollen joints
Any joint can be affected with gout depending on where the crystals deposit, says Puja Khanna, MD, director of the gout clinic at the University of Michigan. In men, joints in the feet, ankles, and elbows are more frequently affected, Dr. Khanna says, while in women, inflamed joints in the hands and knees are more predominantly affected.
Gout cause: taking a diuretic medication
Diuretic medications taken to help lower high blood pressure can raise uric acid levels. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis who take drugs that suppress the immune system also have an increased risk of getting gout, according to the Arthritis Foundation. If a patient is diagnosed with gout, a doctor might change switch their medications to ensure lower levels of uric acid, Dr. Choi says.
Gout cause: eating a “king’s diet”
Although gout can affect anyone, consuming a diet high in “purines” can increase the risk of gout, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Red meat, shellfish, sugary soda, and alcohol—especially beer—are high in purines. What’s so bad about eating too much of the “king’s diet”? When purines are broken down, uric acid forms. By eating more purines, you increase the level of uric acid in your body. If your body struggles to eliminate uric acid through natural processes, such as urination, gout can occur. “With all these fast food chains coming in and fatty meals available, all these folks who didn’t have gout in the past are now getting it,” Dr. Choi says. “It used to be called the disease of kings, but now everyone can afford the king’s meal.”
Gout cause: being overweight
People who are overweight produce more uric acid, and their kidneys have a harder time eliminating it, making these patients more at risk of gout, according to the Mayo Clinic. If a physician does diagnose a patient with gout, he or she might recommend lifestyle changes to help the patient lower their weight, Dr. Choi says. These 40 fast, easy weight loss tips can help.
Gout cause: recent hospital stay
Recent surgery or trauma has been associated with an increased risk of gout. Dr. Ruderman says this is because fluid levels often fluctuate during hospital stays, and patients might also be put on diuretics depending on the nature of their illnesses. These are 50 secrets hospitals won’t tell you.
Gout cause: Having gone through menopause
Gout is more common in men, with an average of 6 million American men experiencing gout each year compared to 2 million women, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Women have lower levels of uric acid until they go through menopause, when their levels approach those of men. Having gone through menopause means women are much more likely to get gout.