As it’s a type of arthritis, gout can cause pain in the flexible joints throughout the body. The condition is marked by a build-up of sodium urate (also known as uric acid) in the body that congregates in the joints to form crystals.
In at least half of all cases of gout, the big toe is the prime site of manifestation. In particular, the metatarsal-phalangeal joint becomes reddened, painful and swollen.
Sodium urate is a natural bi-product of our body’s waste removal system. It’s mostly excreted through the kidneys which work to break the substance down into substances called purines.
When we can’t get rid of sodium urate – either because our body produces too much or evacuates too little, it accumulates in the joints forming crystals. Both imbalances are known as Hyperuricemia, but the result is the same – attacks of pain in joints at the site of crystal build up.
Everything from genetics to lifestyle is widely believed to be a cause of the precursor to gout - hyperuricemia.
As with most health conditions, drinking alcohol, smoking, and not eating a balanced diet are triggers for gout. A history of kidney problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes are also involved at the onset. As a general trend, gout is far more prevalent in men and increasing in frequency generally - the likelihood is that nearly 2% of us will experience gout at some point in our lives.
Pain in the joints and tendons are symptoms of gout. The crystal build-up in joints means that tissue becomes irritated and inflamed. As blood cells are then channelled to the site of irritation, the white blood cells cause a proliferation of lactic acid. Swelling and pain are a result of the body’s natural protective mechanism.
Secondary and long term symptoms can extend to the crystals that have formed becoming larger clumps known as ‘tophi’. These potentially unsightly nodules can cause permanent damage to joints and bone and need to be treated as soon as possible.
When gout occurs, this is known as a gout attack. These sporadic painful experiences can last for up to ten days even though the more intense pain is felt in the initial 24 hours.
It’s called a gout ‘attack’ because of the nature of when they occur – mostly unexpectedly, and that it passes when the symptoms and the source are tackled.
There are readily available treatments like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NASIDs), painkillers and naturally derived treatments that are proven to ease the build-up of the sources of gout and reduce inflammation. Lifestyle changes may also help significantly – for example, cutting down food and drink containing high levels of purine, i.e. alcohol and many meats.
General health improving methods such as reducing intake of caffeine and fatty foods, and getting more exercise will also reduce the chances of getting gout and alleviate symptoms if it’s present.