Gout is a condition that many people associate with its early origins as a disease caused by excessive consumption of rich foods and wine, but it is actually an especially painful form of arthritis, caused by a failure to properly metabolize uric acid. Uric acid crystals, which are normally filtered out with the help of the kidneys, build up around joint cartilage, eventually entering the joint fluid. This buildup causes painful inflammation and heat, and can also lead to kidney stones and kidney blockage.
Gout usually attacks first in the big toe, although it may also affect other joints (often those in the leg) such as ankles, heels, instep, knees, fingers, and elbows; attacks in the joints of the arm are less common. A gout attack is usually isolated to one joint at a time, but it may affect several at once, especially if the condition worsens as time goes on. The attacks may occur in the same joint repeatedly, or they may move around to different ones. The length of an attack can vary, too: while they usually last a few hours at a time, they may take a few days to subside, and in some cases, several weeks, although this is less common. Some people may only experience one attack, or they may go several years between attacks; other will experience them a few times a month. The longer and more frequent the attacks, the greater the damage to the joint.
The pain of gout is sudden and acute: pain comes on quickly in the affected joint, and in some cases is so intense that the weight of a sheet over the area is too much to tolerate. After the pain sets in, it’s followed by a sensation of warmth, noticeable swelling, and redness or purple discoloration; the entire area is tender to the touch. In some cases, the uric acid deposits form lumps around the joint, called tophi.
Although there is no cure for gout, there are treatments, so consult a doctor if you suspect you are suffering from it.