Gout is a painful form of arthritis. When your body has extra uric acid, sharp crystals can form in your joints (usually your big toe). Flare-ups of symptoms like pain and swelling come and go in periods called gout attacks. Treatment is usually a combination of symptom management and changing your diet.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that causes pain and swelling in your joints. Gout happens when there’s a buildup of uric acid in your body.
Gout most commonly affects your big toe joint. But it can affect other joints, including your:
Gout symptoms come and go (recur) in episodes called flares or gout attacks. A healthcare provider will suggest medications and changes to your diet that will lower your uric acid levels and minimize how often you experience gout attacks in the future.
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Gout attacks are very painful and can happen suddenly, often overnight. During a gout attack, symptoms in your affected joints may include:
Gout attacks usually last a week or two. You might have some flares that last longer than others, and some might cause more severe symptoms. Between attacks, you might not experience any gout symptoms.
A buildup of excess uric acid in your body causes gout. Your body naturally makes uric acid when it breaks down chemicals called purines found in certain foods and drinks. Your kidneys usually filter uric acid out of your blood, and then it leaves your body when you pee.Sometimes your body makes too much uric acid, or your kidneys don’t remove it from your blood fast enough. When your body has high levels of uric acid (hyperuricemia), uric acid crystals can build up and settle into your joints. The sharp crystals clump together and cause sudden episodes of pain, swelling and other symptoms.Having temporarily high uric acid levels doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop gout. Many people with hyperuricemia never get gout.
Gout can affect anyone. People assigned male at birth (AMAB) are three times more likely to develop gout. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) usually don’t experience gout until after menopause. People with certain health conditions are more likely to develop gout, including:
You’re more likely to experience gout if you:
Eating or drinking foods high in purines are more likely to lead to high uric acid levels in your body that cause gout, including:
A healthcare provider will diagnose gout with a physical exam. They’ll ask you about your symptoms and examine your affected joints. Tell your provider when you first noticed symptoms like pain and swelling in your joint and how often the symptoms come and go.
Your healthcare provider might use a few imaging tests to take pictures of your affected joints. These tests can also show if gout has caused any changes in your joints. You might need:
Other common tests to diagnose gout include:
Treating gout is usually a combination of managing your symptoms during a flare and reducing how often you consume high-purine foods and drinks.
Your healthcare provider might suggest medications to help manage your symptoms, including:
Your provider might prescribe medications to help lower your uric acid levels. The most common medications that lower uric acid include:
Your healthcare provider may suggest you follow a low-purine diet. A low-purine diet encourages you to consume fewer foods and drinks with high purine content. This will help reduce uric acid in your body. It also encourages you to eat some select foods that may reduce your uric acid levels.
There’s no cure for gout. You’ll experience fewer attacks once you work with a healthcare provider to find treatments that manage your symptoms and lower your uric acid levels.
The best way to prevent gout is to limit how often you consume high-purine foods and drinks. Make sure you drink plenty of water to help your kidneys function better and avoid dehydration.
Getting regular exercise can help reduce stress on your joints and reduce your risk for obesity and other health conditions that make you more likely to develop gout.
If you have gout, you should expect to have flares of symptoms that come and go. Flares can happen more frequently if you don’t get gout diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider.
Some people with gout experience more severe or more frequent attacks right after starting treatment as the uric acid in their body adjusts to new medications or changes in their diet.
Most people with gout eventually find a combination of treatments and lifestyle tweaks to manage their symptoms and reduce how often they experience gout attacks. Gout is treatable, People who have a blood uric level lower than 6 mg/dL are much less likely to experience gout attacks.
Untreated gout can lead to permanent joint damage. The buildup of uric acid in your joints and soft tissue is called tophus. Some people with gout can also develop other health problems, including:
When you have a gout attack, you can manage your symptoms by:
Visit a healthcare provider if you experience sudden intense pain in any of your joints, especially if your joint is also swollen and your skin is red or discolored. Gout shares many symptoms with infections that need to be treated right away.
Talk to your provider if you’re having more frequent gout attacks or if your symptoms are more severe than they used to be.
A gout attack usually happens suddenly and without much warning. You’ll probably notice a sudden, intense pain in your affected joints. Gout attacks often develop overnight, so you might notice symptoms when you wake up in the morning. It’s common to go from having no symptoms to experiencing severe symptoms all at once during a gout attack.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with gout or gout symptoms before, visit a provider as soon as possible to make sure you don’t have an infection or another condition that’s causing your joint pain and swelling.
If you’ve been diagnosed with gout and you notice a flare starting, take the medication that your healthcare provider prescribed to help you manage your symptoms right away.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Gout is a painful form of arthritis. Extra uric acid in your body creates sharp crystals that collect in your joints, causing pain, swelling and other symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about medication and changes in your diet that can help you manage your symptoms and reduce how often you experience attacks in the future.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/19/2023.
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