How Is Gout Diagnosed
In a clear-cut case, a primary care physician can make the diagnosis of gout with a high level of confidence. However, often there are two or more possible causes for an inflamed toe or other joint, which mimics some of the symptoms of gout, so tests to identify the presence of uric acid is performed.
Since the treatment for gout is lifelong, its very important to make a definitive diagnosis. Ideally, the diagnosis is made by identifying uric acid crystals in joint fluid or in a mass of uric acid . These can be seen by putting a drop of fluid on a slide and examining it using a polarizing microscope, which takes advantage of the way uric acid crystals bend light. A non-rheumatologist, when possible, can remove fluid from the joint by aspirating it with a small needle and send it to a lab for analysis. A rheumatologist is likely to have a polarizing attachment on their microscope at their office. Gout crystals have a needle-like shape, and are either yellow or blue, depending on how they are arranged on the slide .
Figure 11: Uric Acid Crystals Under Polarizing Light Microscopy
There are many circumstances where, however ideal it would be, no fluid or other specimen is available to examine, but a diagnosis of gout needs to be made. A set of criteria has been established to help make the diagnosis of gout in this setting .2
Table 1: Diagnosing gout when no crystal identification is possible
Ideally, 6 of 10 features will be present of the following:
Whats The Outlook For People With Gout
Untreated gout can lead to permanent joint damage. The buildup of uric acid in the joints and soft tissue is called tophus. Some people with gout can also develop other health problems, such as severe arthritis, kidney stones and heart disease. Its important to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider.
Diagnostic Evaluation Of Gout In Foot
What goes into a gout diagnosis? These procedures are options:
- Joint aspiration. Fluid is withdrawn from the joint and inspected for crystals and bacteria.
- Blood tests. White blood cell count, ESR , triglycerides, and kidney function may be elevated.
- X-ray. An x-ray of the affected joint is likely to appear normal during an initial acute episode, but in chronic gout, bone erosion and overhanging edges may be seen.
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How Long Gout Pain Lasts
Characteristically, gout pain comes on rapidly and the joint becomes red and swollen, with the swelling reaching a peak within the first 24 hours of the attack, Dr. FitzGerald explains.
At first, gout usually affects just one joint, but can affect more than one joint, sometimes adjacent joints. Flares typically resolve on their own over the next seven to 14 days. Treating a gout flare with medications can help it resolve faster. Medications for gout flares typically include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as ibuprofen or naproxen
A gout attack may occur only one or two times a year or even only a few times ever. However, gout can become chronic, leading to frequent attacks and flares that occur at least a few times a year or never completely resolve. Chronic gout can damage and deform joints and can sometimes be mistaken for other inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
When Is Surgery Considered For Gout
The question of surgery for gout most commonly comes up when a patient has a large clump of urate crystals , which is causing problems. This may be if the tophus is on the bottom of the foot, and the person has difficulty walking on it, or on the side of the foot making it hard to wear shoes. An especially difficult problem is when the urate crystals inside the tophus break out to the skin surface. This then can allow bacteria a point of entry, which can lead to infection, which could even track back to the bone. Whenever possible, however, we try to avoid surgery to remove tophi. The problem is that the crystals are often extensive, and track back to the bone, so there is not a good healing surface once the tophus is removed. In some rare cases, such as when a tophus is infected or when its location is causing major disability, surgical removal may be considered.
Since it is hard to heal the skin after a tophus is removed, a skin graft may be needed. For this reason, we often try hard to manage the tophus medically. If we give high doses of medication to lower the urate level, such as allopurinol, over time the tophus will gradually reabsorb. In severe cases, we may consider using the intravenous medication pegloticase , since it lowers the urate level the most dramatically, and can lead to the fastest shrinkage of the tophus.
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Differences Between Men And Women
Sex differences play a role in which joints are affected:
- In men, about 85% of gout flare-ups affect joints in the lower extremities. About 50% of first-time gout attacks involve a big toe joint.8
- In women, a gout attack is most likely to occur in a knee.10 In addition, women may be more likely to get gout in the upper extremities.9
While women are less likely to get gout, they are more likely to have multiple joints affected by gout.13
Signs And Symptoms Of Gout
Any joint can be affected by gout, but it usually affects joints towards the ends of the limbs, such as the toes, ankles, knees and fingers.
Signs and symptoms of gout include:
- severe pain in one or more joints
- the joint feeling hot and very tender
- swelling in and around the affected joint
- red, shiny skin over the affected joint
Symptoms develop rapidly over a few hours and typically last three to 10 days. After this time the pain should pass and the joint should return to normal.
Almost everyone with gout will experience further attacks at some point, usually within a year.
Read more about the complications of gout.
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The Role Of Physical Activity In Prevention Of Gout
Along with diet, physical activity can help with weight loss, and gout has been associated with being overweight.7 in patients with well-established gout, especially if X-rays have demonstrated joint damage in the foot, a low-impact exercise program is reasonable. An exercise program combined with diet in gout can reduce risk for attacks.7 If an attack seems to be coming on in the lower extremity, patients are well-advised to try to get off their feet, since impact seems to worsen gout attacks. Clues to an attack of gout coming on include local swelling, heat, redness, and tenderness in a joint, especially in the foot, ankle, or knee. Some patients have fever and chills as the first warning that an attack of gout is coming on.
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Lets think about this from the perspective of a machine less complicated than our bodies: your car. Gasoline is its nutrition, and maintenance and mechanical work is its exercise. Take any old rust bucket and give it those two things, and it will go from a creaking wreck to running smoothly.
Drugs would be adding nitrous to the car. Yes, nitrous can help your rust bucket shoot from 0 to 150 on the freeway. But what happens after that? Will it still hold up without proper fuel or maintenance?
The bottom line is that what you put in your body underpins the conditions for gout being present in the body.
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Do Gout Medications Have Any Side Effects
- Gout medications are well tolerated by most people. However, like other medications, they have potential side effects.
- Allopurinol is well tolerated by most people, but in some people, it can cause an allergicrash. Very severe rashes rarely can occur after taking allopurinol, and any allergic type rashes that develop while a patient is taking allopurinol are taken seriously.
- Colchicine can cause signs and symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and rarely muscle weakness and abnormal blood counts.
- Probenecid is generally well tolerated but should not be used in patients who have uric acid kidney stones, as it can worsen the kidney stones and potentially harm the kidneys in these patients.
Treating Gout With Medications
Certain medications reduce the pain and inflammation of gout attacks, such as anti-inflammatory drugs , colchicine, and corticosteroids. Other medications decrease the level of uric acid in the blood and prevent the deposit of uric acid in joints , the kidneys , and in tissue , helping to prevent further attacks and complications. These drugs include allopurinol, febuxostat, lesinurad, and probenicid.
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Treating A Gout Attack
The methods of stopping an attack of gout can vary depending on the severity of pain. Your orthopedic physician may give you a shot of corticosteroids. They may also prescribe other types of medications that are specifically designed to treat gout. To ease the pain during a gout attack, rest the joint that hurts. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine may also be prescribed to help reduce the pain. The good news is that following treatment, relief from the pain and discomfort of a gout attack often begins within 24 hours. It is important to still make an appointment with your orthopedic physician even if your pain from gout is gone. The buildup of uric acid that led to your gout attack can still harm your joints. An orthopedic physician will help you get relief from the pain of gout attacks and learn ways to prevent flare-ups in the future.
*The blog is for general information and educational purposes only regarding musculoskeletal conditions. The information provided does not constitute the practice of medicine or other healthcare professional services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor-patient relationship is formed. Readers with musculoskeletal conditions should seek the advice of their healthcare professionals without delay for any condition they have. The use of the information is at the readers own risk. The content is not intended to replace diagnosis, treatment or medical advice from your treating healthcare professional.
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If you havegout, youre all too familiar with the sudden, burning joint pain that a gout attack can bring on most commonly in the big toe.
Gout a type ofarthritis is caused by too much uric acid in the blood. Usually, having an excess of uric acid isnt harmful. In fact, many people with high levels in their blood never get gout. But when uricacid levels in your blood are too high, the uric acid may form hard crystals in your joints.
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Who Should Diagnose And Treat Gout
The disease should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor or a team of doctors who specialize in care of gout patients. This is important because the signs and symptoms of gout are not specific and can look like signs and symptoms of other inflammatory diseases. Doctors who specialize in gout and other forms of arthritis are called rheumatologists. To find a provider near you, visit the database of rheumatologistsexternal icon on the American College of Rheumatology website. Once a rheumatologist has diagnosed and effectively treated your gout, a primary care provider can usually track your condition and help you manage your gout.
Which Joints Are Involved In Gouty Arthritis And Why Is It Most Common In The Foot
As with all other known types of arthritis, Gout has particular joints it tends to attack, and the foot is its most common location. Gout especially favors the bunion joint, known as the first metatarsophalangeal joint , but the ankle, midfoot and knee are also common locations, as is the bursa that overlies the elbow.
The bunion joint is the first joint involved in 75% of patients and is ultimately involved in over 90% of those with this condition. . It is thought that this joint is especially involved in gout because it is the joint that receives the highest pounds per square inch of pressure when walking or running.
Late in gout, if untreated, multiple joints can be involved, including the fingers and wrists. The shoulder joint is very rarely involved by gout and the same is true of the hip.
Figure 5: Location of Gout Attacks
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Risk Factors For Gout
Obesity, excessive weight gain, especially in youth, moderate to heavy alcohol intake, high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormal kidney function are among the risk factors for developing gout. Certain drugs and diseases can also cause elevated levels of uric acid. Also, there is an increased prevalence of abnormally low thyroid hormone levels in patients with gout.
What Causes Gout Pain
Picture a collection of glass shards pressing outward like needles. This is what it can feel like during a gout flare, when a buildup of uric acid in the blood forms microscopic crystals that grow in and around a joint. As the build-up increases, the immune system responds to these crystals, causing inflammation that leads to visible swelling, redness, and debilitating pain.
In some cases, a gout flare can even lead to a fever and look like an infected joint, Dr. FitzGerald notes. The treating doctor may need to look for possible source of infection, often by removing fluid from the joint to send to the lab to look for crystals or bacteria.
Uric acid is a byproduct of the body breaking down proteins called purines from your own cells and from certain foods such as red meat and shellfish. Alcohol and drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup are also high in purines. Normally, uric acid dissolves in your blood and is filtered out through your kidneys, but when your body produces too much uric acid or your kidneys fail to filter it, either due to familial causes or kidney disease, then the uric acid builds up and creates the needle-like urate crystals that cause gout and can also form kidney stones, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Effective Medical Treatment For Gout
The American College of Rheumatology released gout management guidelines in 2012 and updated them in 2020. They recommend drugs classified as urate-lowering therapy for those who have experienced two or more gout attacks in a year as well as for those with joint damage from gout.
Specifically, the organization recommends allopurinol as a first-line treatment for all gout patients, even those with chronic kidney disease. Next in line is febuxostat both are a class of drugs called xanthine oxidase inhibitors.
In addition, the guidelines recommend use of anti-inflammatory medications including NSAIDs, prednisone, or colchicine along with the other medication.
Points To Remember About Gout
- Gout is a type of arthritis that causes pain and swelling in your joints, usually as flares that last for a week or two, and then go away.
- With early diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle changes, gout is one of the most controllable forms of arthritis.
- The most common symptom of gout is pain in the affected joint, such as the big toe.
- Your doctor may recommend taking medications to manage the cause of your gout and treat active gout flares, and making changes to your diet and lifestyle.
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What Does A Gout Attack Look And Feel Like What Would A Foot Or Toe With Gout Look Like
When gout occurs, the joint tends to be extremely painful and is warm, red and swollen . The inflammation that is part of a gout attack is systemic, so that fever and chills, fatigue and malaise are not uncommonly part of the picture of a gout attack.
Figure 6: Toe with Acute Attack of Gout
Gout attacks can occur in joints that look normal, or in joints that have easily visible deposits of uric acid. These deposits are called tophi and can be in numerous locations, but especially on the feet and elbows. In Figure 9, the little finger of the right hand is bandaged since fluid was just removed from it, which demonstrated innumerable uric acid crystals.
Figure 7a: Tophi on Foot
Figure 7b: Tophus Over Achilles’ Tendon
Figure 8: Tophus on Elbow
Figure 9: Tophi on Hands
Figure 10: Large Tophus of Finger
While some gout attacks will solve quickly by themselves, the majority will go on for a week, several weeks, or even longer if not treated. Since gout attacks are usually quite painful and often make walking difficult, most gout sufferers will request specific treatment for their painful condition.
Pain And Swelling Are Gouts Calling Cards
The most frequent signs of a gout attack are swelling, tenderness, redness, and a sharp pain in your big toe. These attacks are most common at night when you are sitting still and laying flat on your back. While gout usually manifests in the big toe, you may also experience gout attacks in your foot, ankle, or knees. The attacks can be short or long, anywhere from a few days to weeks and you may not have another attack may for months or years.
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What Gout Treatment Options Are Available To Me How Do I Tell If I Have Gout In The Foot
Before you choose the right treatment for you, its important to understand what options are available.
A talk with your doctor may leave out some important options, so its important to be informed going into your visit. This article aims to explain every option you have, with some commentary on the pros and cons of each one for further discussion. Towards the end, we explore the newer, lifestyle based alternatives.
Uric acid production inhibitors
Scientifically known as xanthine oxidase inhibitors, these medications limit the amount of uric acid produced by the body. They help to reduce blood uric acid concentrations and reduce the overall risk of gout.
Like all drugs, unintended side effects are a part of use. This particular class of drugs can produce side effects including rash, low blood volume, nausea, and reduced liver function. How Do I Tell if I Have Gout in the Foot