Gout is a complex form of inflammatory arthritis which is extremely painful for those suffering from it. Typically, men are more susceptible to contracting the disease, though women are also at significant risk in the post-menopausal age.
The condition occurs due to an excess of uric acid (a bodily waste product) in the bloodstream. This toxic build-up of uric acid, referred to as hyperuricemia, usually manifests itself as:
- Sharp, needle-like crystal deposits in the joints, or
- Lump-like formations under the skin, or
- Kidney stones in severe cases.
The condition is such that even as uric acid levels increase in the body, it is mostly detected only when a gout attack occurs. Fortunately, it has distinctive symptoms and is relatively easy to diagnose. Thus, it is important that one be aware of what signs to look out for and consult a physician as soon as they appear.
What the Condition Entails
Gout is infamous for the acute pains it causes in specific areas of the body at sudden and unpredictable intervals.
- A gout attack usually occurs after some trigger causes uric acid levels to shoot up, thus causing the already formed crystals to get disturbed. This results in inflammation of the site and intense pain.
- In most cases, the pain strikes at night and worsens over the next eight-to-twelve-hour period. Classic cases are where pain is experienced in the big toe, although gout can affect the insoles, ankles, heels, wrists, fingers, elbows and heels too.
- Alongside the swelling and pain, redness, heating up of the affected area and stiffness in the joints may also be experienced. These symptoms however last only a few days and mostly disappear after a fortnight.
- Recurrent attacks are unlikely experienced too soon, with the typical incidence of the second attack occurring between one to three years post the first.
- In the interval between attacks, there is no pain, though low-key inflammation continues to harm the joints.
- If uric acid levels are not checked in time, individuals are at high risk of becoming chronic gout patients.
From the above, it is easily perceptible that the symptoms of gout are both difficult and inadvisable to overlook. Medical aid and long-term remedies should be sought immediately after the first attack.
Diagnosis of the Condition
Even as gout has very glaring symptoms, it is somewhat tricky to diagnose for several reason. One is that hyperuricemia may not be present during a flare, which makes it difficult to detect. Also, not all people having hyperuricemia develop gout. Hence it is a combination of joint fluid tests, blood tests and examination of affected site for urate crystals that lead to accurate diagnosis.
Moreover, often, a condition called pseudogout is misapprehended as gout. The symptoms are similar but the former is caused by joint irritation due to calcium phosphate crystals and not urate crystals. Competent physicians are nonetheless able to differentiate between the two and diagnose correctly in the early stages.
How Serious It Is
It goes without saying that during an attack, the pain and inflammation are highly problematic for the suffering individual; they certainly hamper their day-to-day living. However, that is not all; gout can be damaging to the body, especially in cases where adequate attention is not paid.
- If high levels of uric acid persist in the bloodstream for several years, attacks are likely to become more frequent, with the relief from aches taking longer to occur.
- Permanent damage to the joints may occur, causing loss of mobility in the affected bodily region.
- In some cases, the crystals may collect in the kidney, thus causing stone formation which is another rather painful prospect in itself.
Thus, a person must take measures to control uric acid levels post their first attack. A combination of medication and lifestyle changes can go a long way in ensuring that the condition does not get intensified to unmanageable proportions.