You’ve just gotten off to sleep, when suddenly in the middle of the night you feel intense pain at the base of your big toe – or in your ankle, knee, or other joint. The excruciating pain is accompanied by swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joint. It feels like the joint is on fire, and the pain lingers for a few days or as much as two weeks, making it difficult for you to move your joints.
What you’re experiencing may well be a bout of gout – and it isn’t called a “gout attack” for no reason.
How Gout Happens
It’s a form of arthritis that occurs when urate crystals, triggered by high levels of uric acid in your blood, accumulate in one of your joints and cause inflammation and intense pain. Uric acid is produced when your body breaks down purines naturally found in your body – and in certain foods (such as steak, organ meat, and seafood), alcoholic beverages, and drinks sweetened with fructose.
Usually, uric acid dissolves in your bloodstream, passes through your kidneys, and is dispersed in your urine. Sometimes, however, your body may produce too much uric acid or too little is excreted from your body. Instead, the uric acid builds up, forming the needle-like urate crystals that wind up in a joint or surrounding tissue – and causing inflammation, swelling, and severe pain.
Risk Factors for Gout
Gout is actually quite common. In fact, there are 3 million cases of it in the U.S. every year. These risk factors make you predisposed to developing gout:
- Eating/drinking habits (such as too much meat, alcohol, or sugar)
- Being overweight
- Having diabetes
- Having a family history of gout
- Being diagnosed with a metabolic syndrome, heart disease, or kidney disease
- Using certain medications such as thiazide diuretics, low-dose aspirin, or anti-rejection drugs following an organ transplant
Medication for Gout
Gout can be diagnosed by your physician using a blood or joint fluid test, X-ray imaging, ultrasound, or a dual-energy CT scan. Acute attacks can be treated – and future attacks prevented – with various types of medication, including:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen sodium (Aleve), or prescription NSAIDs, such as Indocin or Celebrex.
- Colchicine, a pain reliever designed to reduce gout pain and prevent future attacks.
- Corticosteroids, either in pill form or injected directly into the affected joint.
For frequent gout attacks, your physician may recommend medications that block uric acid production or improve uric acid removal.
Preventing Gout Attacks
If you are prone to flares of gout, take these preventive steps:
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids – especially water. Also, limit the number of sweetened beverages you drink, particularly those with high-fructose corn syrup.
- Avoid – or at least limit – your consumption of alcohol.
- Stick with low-fat dairy products as sources of protein, limiting your intake of meat, fish, and poultry.
- Shed some pounds to reduce uric acid levels in your body if you are overweight. However, do not resort to fasting or rapid weight loss, as it may temporarily increase your uric acid levels.
Orthopedic Expertise in San Antonio
At the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, we provide patient-centered care for gout, as well as other conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. Whether you need an orthopedic surgeon or rehabilitation from a debilitating illness or injury, our physicians and staff will provide the highest quality care available.
We are located next to Methodist Texsan Hospital in Balcones Heights. Call us today at (210) 692-7400 to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, or simply request an appointment using our online form. We look forward to helping you improve your orthopedic health.