It starts with a sudden burning sensation in your big toe that wakes you up in the middle of the night. Your toe is red and swollen and feels sore and warm. The pain clears up after several days, but over time, you find the attacks occurring again and again, each one causing you more anguish. Many times, these symptoms are the first indication you’re suffering from gout.
Gout is a painful type of arthritis that most often affects men between ages 40 and 50 and postmenopausal women. It occurs when uric acid, a waste product in the body, is deposited (in the form of needlelike crystals) in joints or soft tissues. Your body makes uric acid when it breaks down substances called purines, which occur naturally in the body and are also found in certain foods such as mushrooms, asparagus and scallops. Stress, alcohol, drug use or illness can trigger a gout attack.
While gout often strikes the big toe, it can also cause the same symptoms in other joints or areas around them, such as your ankle, heel, knee, wrist, finger or elbow. Left untreated, the pain can worsen and lead to joint damage and kidney stones.
Healthcare providers usually treat gout with medications. These can include over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids. Your provider can also prescribe preventive drugs that either block uric acid production or help improve your body’s ability to remove uric acid.
In addition to medication, these tactics may help reduce your pain:
- Avoid high-purine foods. These include seafoods such as anchovies, sardines, herring, mussels, codfish, scallops, trout and haddock, and certain meats, such as bacon, turkey, veal, venison and liver.
- Drink up—but skip the alcohol, which hinders your body’s ability to remove uric acid. Staying hydrated with healthy fluids like water can dilute uric acid in your body.
- Work with your doctor to manage health conditions that frequently occur with gout: diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood fat levels (hyperlipidemia).
- Check your pills. Ask your healthcare provider whether any of your medications may be to blame: Low-dose aspirin, diuretics and other drugs cause your body to make more uric acid.
- Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight.