Gout

Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis characterized by sudden and severe pain, swelling, and redness in the joints. Here, we aim to provide you with an in-depth overview of gout, including its causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnostic methods, and available treatment options.

What is the definition of gout?

Gout is a type of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals (hyperuricemia) in the joints. It commonly affects the joints in the big toe but can also occur in other joints such as the ankles, knees, wrists, and fingers.

What are the causes of gout and risk factors?

Several factors contribute to the development of gout, including both genetic and lifestyle-related causes. Here are the main causes and risk factors associated with gout:

Elevated Uric Acid Levels

Gout occurs when there is an excessive production or reduced excretion of uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a waste product formed during the breakdown of purines, substances found in certain foods and cells. When uric acid levels become too high, it can lead to the formation of urate crystals in the joints, triggering gout attacks

Genetic Predisposition

Gout can run in families, indicating a genetic component. Certain genetic variations can affect how the body processes and eliminates uric acid, making some individuals more prone to developing gout

Diet

Dietary factors play a significant role in the development of gout. Foods rich in purines, such as organ meats (liver, kidney), red meat, seafood (anchovies, sardines, mussels), and certain vegetables (spinach, asparagus), can increase uric acid levels and contribute to gout. Additionally, excessive consumption of fructose-containing beverages (such as sugary sodas) has been associated with an increased risk of gout

Obesity

Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing gout. Excess body weight contributes to increased uric acid production and reduced excretion, leading to higher uric acid levels in the bloodstream and a higher risk of gout

Age and Gender

Gout typically affects men more commonly than women. Men often develop gout after the age of 30, while women have a higher risk after menopause. However, the risk increases with age for both genders

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions and co-morbidities can increase the risk of gout. These include high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, metabolic syndrome, kidney disease, and certain types of cancers (such as blood cancers or solid tumors)

Medications

Some medications can raise uric acid levels or reduce its excretion, increasing the risk of gout. Examples include diuretics (used to treat high blood pressure), low-dose aspirin, immunosuppressive drugs (used after organ transplantation), and medications containing niacin

Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption, particularly beer and spirits, has been associated with an increased risk of gout. Alcohol can interfere with uric acid excretion and promote its production, contributing to gout development

Dehydration

Inadequate fluid intake or chronic dehydration can lead to higher uric acid concentrations in the body, increasing the risk of gout. It is important to maintain proper hydration to support the excretion of uric acid through the kidneys

It’s worth noting that not everyone with elevated uric acid levels will develop gout. The interplay of genetic and lifestyle factors determines an individual’s susceptibility to the disease. If you have risk factors for gout or are experiencing symptoms, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional who can provide a proper diagnosis, recommend appropriate treatment, and offer guidance on lifestyle modifications to manage uric acid levels and reduce the risk of gout attacks

What are the symptoms of gout?

The symptoms of gout typically occur in episodes or “flare-ups,” and they can vary in duration and intensity. The most commonly affected joint is the base of the big toe, but gout can also affect other joints such as the ankles, knees, wrists, elbows, and fingers. Below is a list of the common symptoms of gout:

Intense Joint Pain

The hallmark symptom of gout is the sudden onset of intense joint pain, which often occurs at night or in the early morning. The pain is typically described as sharp, excruciating, and throbbing. It can be so severe that even the slightest touch or movement of the affected joint can be excruciating

Joint Swelling

Along with the pain, gout can cause significant joint swelling. The affected joint becomes swollen, red, and warm to the touch. The swelling may make it difficult to move the joint or bear weight on it

Tenderness

The affected joint is usually tender and sensitive to pressure. Even the lightest touch or pressure on the joint can elicit severe pain

Limited Range of Motion

During a gout attack, the joint’s range of motion may be limited due to pain, swelling, and inflammation. It may be challenging to bend or move the joint as freely as usual

Persistent Discomfort

After the initial intense pain and swelling subside, some individuals may experience a lingering discomfort in the affected joint. This discomfort can last for several days to weeks, even if the acute symptoms have resolved

Recurrent Attacks

Gout tends to occur in episodes or flare-ups, with periods of relative calm between the attacks. The frequency and severity of gout attacks can vary from person to person. Over time, without appropriate management and treatment, the intervals between attacks may shorten, and the symptoms may become more severe

Kidney Stones

Too much uric acid in the body resulting from gout can lead to the formation of uric acid kidney stones. However, it’s important to note that this is just one variant of kidney stones, and there are numerous other types that are not associated with an increased risk due to gout.

If you experience symptoms of gout or suspect you may have gout, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management. Gout can be effectively treated and managed with medications, lifestyle modifications, and preventive strategies to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

How is gout diagnosed?

Diagnosing gout involves a combination of evaluating symptoms, conducting a physical examination, and performing certain tests to confirm the presence of elevated uric acid levels or the presence of urate crystals in the affected joint. Here are the common methods used in the diagnosis of gout:

Medical History and Physical Examination

Your healthcare provider or rheumatologist will begin by taking a detailed medical & family history and conducting a physical examination. They will ask about your symptoms, the location and duration of joint pain, and any previous episodes of similar symptoms. They will also inquire about your diet, alcohol intake, and any medications you are taking. During the physical examination, the affected joint(s) will be carefully examined for signs of inflammation, such as redness, swelling, tenderness, and limited range of motion

Joint Fluid Analysis

To definitively diagnose gout, your healthcare provider may perform a procedure called joint fluid aspiration or arthrocentesis. A needle is inserted into the affected joint to collect a sample of synovial fluid. The fluid is then analyzed under a microscope to check for the presence of urate crystals. The identification of needle-shaped, negatively birefringent urate crystals confirms the diagnosis of gout

Blood Tests

Blood tests can help measure the level of uric acid in your blood. However, it’s important to note that high uric acid levels alone do not confirm a diagnosis of gout, as some individuals with elevated uric acid levels may not develop gout, and not all individuals with gout have high uric acid levels during an acute attack. Nevertheless, blood tests can be helpful in assessing overall uric acid levels and monitoring treatment response

Imaging Studies

While not typically used for initial diagnosis, imaging studies such as X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans may be ordered to evaluate joint damage or rule out other causes of joint pain. These imaging modalities can help identify features associated with chronic gout, such as joint erosion or tophi (deposits of urate crystals) in the affected joint or surrounding tissues

Differential Diagnosis

Gout symptoms can overlap with other conditions, such as septic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Your healthcare provider will consider other potential causes of joint pain and inflammation and may order additional tests, such as blood cultures or rheumatoid factor tests, to rule out these conditions

What are the treatment options for gout?

The treatment of gout aims to relieve the symptoms of acute attacks, prevent future attacks, and manage the underlying cause, which is the elevated levels of uric acid in the body. The treatment options for gout include lifestyle modifications, medications, and, in some cases, surgical interventions. Here are the main treatment approaches for gout

Lifestyle changes

  • Dietary Changes: Avoiding or limiting foods high in purines, such as organ meats, seafood, red meat, and certain vegetables (like spinach and asparagus), can help reduce uric acid levels. Additionally, reducing the consumption of sugary beverages, especially those containing high-fructose corn syrup, is recommended
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is important as excess body weight is associated with higher uric acid levels. Losing weight gradually, if overweight, can help reduce the risk of gout attacks
  • Hydration: Drinking an adequate amount of water helps promote the excretion of uric acid through the kidneys. It is recommended to consume at least 8 to 10 glasses of water per day
  • Reducing Alcohol Intake: Drinking alcohol can heighten the risk of repeated gout flare-ups, with a higher level of consumption correlating to a greater risk. Notably, even moderate alcohol intake can significantly amplify the probability of recurrent episodes, particularly among men

Medications for gout

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are commonly used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation during gout attacks. These medications can help alleviate the symptoms and shorten the duration of an acute flare-up
  • colchicine usp: colchicine usp is an anti-inflammatory medication that can be used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation during acute gout attacks. It is most effective when taken within the first 24 to 48 hours of symptom onset
  • Corticosteroids: In cases where NSAIDs and colchicine usp are contraindicated or not well-tolerated, corticosteroids may be prescribed orally, injected into the affected joint, or given intravenously to reduce inflammation and pain during acute attacks
  • Urate-Lowering Therapy (ULT): ULT is prescribed for individuals who experience frequent gout attacks or have high levels of uric acid. These medications, such as allopurinol or febuxostat, work to lower uric acid levels in the blood and preventing the formation of urate crystals. ULT is typically started after the acute flare-up has subsided to avoid worsening symptoms initially
  • Prophylaxis during ULT Initiation: To prevent gout attacks that may occur when initiating ULT, medications such as colchicine usp or low-dose NSAIDs are often prescribed for a short period

Surgical interventions

  • Joint Aspiration: In cases where the joint is severely inflamed and other treatments have not provided relief, your healthcare provider may recommend joint aspiration to remove excess fluid and urate crystals from the affected joint, providing immediate pain relief
  • Tophus Removal: Tophi are deposits of urate crystals that can form under the skin in chronic gout. Surgical removal may be necessary if tophi cause discomfort, limit joint mobility, or become infected

What medications are used in gout?

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Indomethacin
  • Celecoxib

colchicine usp

This medication reduces inflammation and pain associated with gout attacks. It is often used for short-term treatment and can also be taken as a preventive measure

Corticosteroids

These medications may be prescribed in the form of oral prednisone, injected into the affected joint, or administered intravenously during severe gout attacks

Xanthine Oxidase Inhibitors (XOIs)

  • Allopurinol: Allopurinol reduces uric acid production and is commonly used for long-term prevention of gout attacks
  • Febuxostat: Similar to allopurinol, febuxostat also reduces uric acid production and is prescribed for long-term management of gout

Uricosurics

  • Probenecid: Probenecid increases uric acid excretion, helping to prevent the formation of urate crystals that contribute to gout attacks

Pegloticase

This medication is used for severe, chronic gout that does not respond to other treatments. Pegloticase helps break down uric acid and is administered intravenously

How are gout attacks managed or prevented?

In addition to medical treatment, lifestyle modifications and self-care can help manage gout and prevent future attacks. These include:

  • Following a low-purine diet: Limiting intake of purine-rich foods and beverages
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Losing weight if necessary to reduce uric acid levels
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, to help flush out uric acid
  • Avoiding alcohol and sugary beverages: These can increase uric acid levels
  • Regular exercise: Engaging in low-impact exercises to maintain joint health and promote overall well-being

What is pseudogout and how is it different to gout?

Gout and pseudogout are both characterized by sudden joint pain, swelling, and redness. While gout typically affects one joint (commonly the big toe in men and the knee in women), pseudogout can affect between 1 to 4 joints, including the knee, wrist, and knuckles, but rarely the big toe.  The conditions are caused by the accumulation of different types of crystals in the joints: monosodium urate crystals for gout, and calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals for pseudogout. These crystals lead to inflammation and pain, though not everyone with these crystals experiences symptoms. While both conditions can cause sudden joint pain, gout pain tends to be more severe and often occurs in the middle of the night. Untreated gout symptoms usually resolve in a few days or weeks, while pseudogout can last much longer. Treatment for both conditions is recommended to prevent joint damage. Additionally, pseudogout may result in calcium build-up in the tendons of the affected joint, leading to inflammation and pain.

What gout support organizations are there available to support me in the UK?

  • National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS): The NRAS supports individuals with various rheumatological conditions, including gout. They offer resources, educational materials, online forums, and local support groups to help individuals manage their condition effectively
  • Arthritis Action: Arthritis Action is a charity organization that provides support for individuals with different forms of arthritis, including gout. They offer self-management programs, advice, educational resources, and a helpline for individuals seeking guidance
  • Versus Arthritis: Versus Arthritis is a charity organization that offers support for individuals with various forms of arthritis, including gout. They provide information, resources, online community forums, and helpline services to assist individuals in managing their condition
  • Gout Society: The Gout Society is a UK-based organization that focuses specifically on supporting individuals with gout. They offer resources, information, and a platform for individuals to share experiences and connect with others living with gout
  • Age UK: Age UK is a national charity that supports older people and provides information and resources on various health conditions, including gout. They offer advice, educational materials, and support services that can assist individuals in understanding and managing their condition

What gout support organizations are there available to support me in the US?

  • Arthritis Foundation: The Arthritis Foundation is a national organization that offers support for individuals with various forms of arthritis, including gout. They provide educational resources, online communities, local support groups, and advocacy initiatives to help individuals manage their condition
  • Gout & Uric Acid Education Society: The Gout & Uric Acid Education Society is a non-profit organization focused specifically on gout education and support. They offer resources, information, and tools to help individuals understand and manage their condition effectively
  • Gout Guideline: 2020 American College of Rheumatology Guideline for the Management of Gout

Summary

Gout is a painful form of arthritis that can significantly impact quality of life. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for effective management. If you experience symptoms of gout or suspect you may have the condition, consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. With proper management, lifestyle modifications, and adherence to prescribed medications, gout can be effectively controlled, reducing the frequency and severity of gout attacks and improving overall joint health.

Medical Disclaimer

NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information on this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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