Gout is a condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. It occurs when sharp crystals of uric acid build up in the blood and are deposited in soft tissues, including the tissues of the joints. Uric acid is a naturally-occurring substance that's usually eliminated through urine. But sometimes, uric acid can't be efficiently eliminated, leaving it to build up in the soft tissues where it causes painful symptoms. Gout attacks are often preceded by chronic stress, illness or alcohol or drug use.
Gout occurs in four stages. In the first stage, uric acid levels are elevated in the blood, but there are no noticeable symptoms. In the second stage, joint pain and swelling develop, often very quickly. Most commonly, joint symptoms occur in the big toe or elsewhere in the foot or ankle, but they may also occur in the knees, wrists, fingers and elbows. Kidney stones may also develop. In the third stage, gout symptoms may subside and you may experience a decrease in pain and inflammation. The fourth stage is called chronic tophaceous gout, and this is the time when gout causes permanent damage to the joints and often, the kidneys.
Gout occurs more commonly in people who:
are obese or overweight
have a family history of gout
consume a diet high in purines (the precursor of uric acid) or drink too much alcohol
take certain types of medications, including diuretics
have health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, renal insufficiency or psoriasis
In most cases, gout can be treated very successfully with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids to help relieve pain and inflammation. Dietary and lifestyle changes may also help reduce the amount of uric acid that's produced.
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