Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. It often affects the big toe, although it can occur in other joints as well. Uric acid is a waste product formed when the body breaks down purines, substances found naturally in the body and in certain foods.
When there’s an excess of uric acid in the bloodstream or when the body has difficulty eliminating it, uric acid crystals can form in the joints, leading to sudden and severe pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in the affected joint. Gout attacks can be excruciating and can occur suddenly, often waking a person up in the middle of the night with intense pain in the affected joint.
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Living with Gout
Gout primarily affects the joints and can lead to several musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions. The most common MSK conditions caused by gout include:
The hallmark of gout, characterized by sudden and severe joint pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness due to the buildup of uric acid crystals in the affected joint. It most commonly affects the big toe but can also involve other joints such as the ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows.
Tophi are deposits of uric acid crystals that accumulate beneath the skin, typically in the joints or surrounding tissues. They can appear as lumps or nodules and, in some cases, cause joint deformities.
Managing MSK conditions caused by gout involves a combination of medical treatment and lifestyle changes:
Medications: During acute gout attacks, medications like NSAIDs, corticosteroids, or colchicine are often prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation. Long-term medications that lower uric acid levels in the blood (such as allopurinol, febuxostat, or probenecid) are used to prevent gout attacks and reduce the risk of joint damage.
Healthy Diet: Adopting a low-purine diet can help reduce uric acid levels. This involves limiting high-purine foods such as red meat, organ meats, seafood (like anchovies and sardines), and alcohol (especially beer and liquor). Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products can be beneficial.
Hydration: Staying well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water helps in flushing out excess uric acid from the body.
Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet can help prevent gout attacks, as obesity is a risk factor for gout.
Joint Protection: During gout attacks, resting the affected joint and applying ice packs can provide relief. Using cushioned footwear and avoiding tight or ill-fitting shoes can reduce pressure on the affected joints.
Regular Monitoring: It’s essential for individuals with gout to have regular check-ups with their healthcare provider to monitor uric acid levels, assess the effectiveness of medications, and prevent complications associated with chronic gout.
Managing gout-related MSK conditions involves a combination of medication adherence, lifestyle modifications, and regular medical follow-ups to prevent recurrent gout attacks, reduce joint damage, and improve overall quality of life. Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional or a rheumatologist is crucial for effective management and long-term prevention of gout-related MSK issues.