Gout is a common type of arthritis. Gout occurs when there are abnormally elevated levels of uric acid in the blood and tissues. Uric acid is one of the waste products of the body. Normal values of uric acid range from 250 to 750 milligrams per 24 hours. This is a common and painful condition that affects the joints. Small crystals form in and around the joint, causing inflammation, pain and swelling.
What is uric acid?
There are certain substances called purines in the body. Purines are DNA building blocks derived from protein. Purines are also found in some foods and drinks, such as liver, anchovies, mackerel, dried beans and peas, beer, and wine. When the body breaks down these purines it leads to the formation of a chemical called uric acid. Most of the uric acid dissolves in blood and travels to the kidneys. From the kidneys uric acid is eliminated from the body via urine. If the body produces excess amount of uric acid or if the body is unable to eliminate the excess amount of uric acid then it leads to abnormally elevated levels of uric acid in the blood. High levels of uric acid in the body lead to a condition called hyperuricemia. This condition does not present any symptoms of arthritis. When uric acid precipitates in a joint (often the big toe) it causes an acute arthritis.
Incidence of Gout
This condition commonly affects men. The age group that is most likely to show symptoms of gout is the middle age group. It is also found in upper classes of the society. Developed countries have a higher incidence of gout.
Symptoms of Gout
An attack of gout happens suddenly, often overnight. The most common site for gout attacks is the big toe, but gout may affect other joints as well like ankles, knees, wrists, fingers and elbows. The symptoms of gout include sudden and intense pain in the affected joints. The joints have a swollen, red and inflamed appearance. The pain in the joints can be so intense that slightest touch can cause aggravation of the pain. The joints are warm to touch and cause considerable restrictions in mobility. In some cases the symptoms of gout can also be accompanied by fever.
Without treatment, the symptoms of a gout attack can subside within a week. Gout usually has a tendency to recur. It might be a several months before gout strikes again. But without proper management, the attacks will become more frequent and more intense over a period of time. These attacks can affect other joints. A joint might be permanently damaged by recurring attacks of gout, and may develop osteoarthritis. Uric acid can also lodge in surrounding tissues. In many cases, people suffering from gout often complain of kidney stones or stones in the bladder. This is again linked to the increased levels of uric acid in the body.
Diagnosis of Gout
Gout is diagnosed with the help of blood tests. Blood tests are used to measure the uric acid levels. Increased levels of uric acid along with the associated symptoms confirm the diagnosis of gout.