Gout, Explained in Under 2 Minutes

This foot problem is actually a type of arthritis.

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If you’ve got pain, swelling, and redness in just your big toe, you might have gout. Commonly considered a foot problem, this condition is actually a type of arthritis (an umbrella term for all joint diseases).

Gout occurs when the body produces too much uric acid, which is a byproduct of when the body metabolizes purines (found naturally in human cells as well as in many types of food). Normally, you eliminate uric acid through your urine—hence the name—but uric acid can build up for two key reasons:

  1. Overproduction: Your body is making too much uric acid.

  2. Underexcretion: Your kidneys are not effectively processing the uric acid.

This results in a state called hyperuricemia, which increases the risk for gout (as well as kidney and heart problems). The excess uric acid forms crystals that build up in the joints, usually the big toe, which causes sudden onset of intense and searing pain. Gout may also affect ankle and knee joints.

Uric acid buildup is linked to certain lifestyle factors, such as:

  • Obesity

  • Crash diets

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Excess alcohol intake

  • Dehydration

  • And diets high in fructose, red meat, organ meat, and certain types of seafood.

Gout occurs in “episodes” that last about a week. While it’s possible to just have a single gout attack, about 85 percent of people who experience a gout attack will have a second within three years. When someone has continually high levels of uric acid and gout attacks become frequent, this is called chronic gout. It may cause joint damage and loss of mobility.

Luckily, chronic gout and joint damage are totally preventable. Medications and lifestyle changes can help lower your uric acid surplus, which can help reduce your risk of gout and improve your overall health.

Lifestyle changes to prevent gout attacks include avoiding foods high in purines (red meat, organ meat, shellfish, sugar-sweetened beverages, and excessive alcohol) and incorporating more veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

Other important lifestyle changes include physical activity and weight management. Healthy weight loss (not crash diets) can help reduce the levels of uric acid in the blood, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

If lifestyle changes alone aren’t helping your gout attacks, doctors may also recommend medications. The most common types are meds that blunt pain and medication, and meds that lower uric acid levels.

Don’t wait to talk to your doctor about your tender toe. Start treatment now to prevent further gout attacks.