Gout is a condition where small crystals of uric acid form in and around a joint, causing inflammation, pain and swelling. Uric acid is one of the body’s normal waste products which is usually excreted through the urine. In people with gout, uric acid levels build up and crystals form. The crystal deposits can eventually cause joint destruction and nodules called tophi.
Gout most commonly affects men aged 40 to 50 years, and older people taking diuretic medication (medication that helps to rid water from the body).
What does gout feel like?
Gout usually comes on suddenly, often overnight. The affected joint becomes very red, swollen, painful and tender to touch. Gout is prevalent in the feet, usually affecting the big toe joint. Gout can also occur on the top of the foot and in the ankle joint.
An episode of gout will usually last about one week with no treatment. It is possible for considerable time (months or even years) to pass between episodes of gout. However, if not managed well, episodes of gout can become more severe and occur more frequently, eventually leading to permanent joint damage and more constant symptoms.
What causes gout?
Gout is caused by a build up of uric acid, and can be hereditary. It is also associated with lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol, dehydration (lack of water in the body), being overweight or overeating, ‘crash’ dieting or fasting, and eating certain foods (ie, foods that are high in purines such as red meats).
If you kidney problems or require diuretic medication then your risk of developing gout may be increased.
How is gout treated?
During an attack of gout, ice and medication is helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. Longer term prevention of gout generally involves a review of lifestyle risk factors and medication to lower uric acid levels.
Podiatrists are able to provide assistance with footwear modifications to protect joints that are affected by gout. If required, your podiatrist may refer you to see a surgeon for advice on surgical options.