An estimated 6.1 million men and 2.2 million women in the United States have gout: a complex form of arthritis with symptoms that include swelling, redness, tenderness, intense pain, and limited range of motion in one or more joints. Gout symptoms most frequently manifest in the big toe, where they typically develop rapidly and last three to 10 days.
What Is Gout?
Uric acid is produced by the body whenever it breaks down purine: a naturally occurring heterocyclic aromatic organic compound. Purines are also found in certain foods and beverages such as red meat, liver and other offal, anchovies and other seafood, dried beans, and beer. (Although they are low in purine, soft drinks contain high levels of fructose: the only carbohydrate known to increase uric acid levels.)
Most uric acid is dissolved in the blood, passed down to the kidneys, and removed from the body via urination. But when the body produces or receives too much uric acid – or if it does not remove enough of it – a condition known as hyperuricemia can follow.
Hyperuricemia causes uric acid molecules to clump together as sharp crystals. These crystals, which resemble needles, accumulate within joints where they abrade and damage surrounding soft tissues, thus causing symptoms of gout. Uric acid crystals form most easily under cooler temperatures, which is why they frequently accumulate in the big toe: as the body part farthest from the heart, the big toe is also the coolest.
What Can Happen When Gout Isn’t Treated?
Minor cases of gout may manifest and resolve themselves quickly. But when gout is chronic and untreated, the patient is at increased risk of suffering several long-lasting implications.
- Kidney stones – Uric acid doesn’t exclusively accumulate in the big toe. It can also form sharp crystals in the kidneys. These “stones” can cause severe and unrelenting pain, blood in urine, fever, chills, and a burning sensation during urination. Some people who have done both claim that passing a kidney stone is equally painful as giving birth.
- Tophi – The uric acid crystals which accumulate around joints are known as tophi. The abrasive formations can break down joint tissue, which is the root cause of gout’s symptoms of swelling, pain, and loss of range of motion. Tophi may also cause skin to stretch out and become uncomfortably tight, sometimes causing painful accompanying sores.
- More frequent attacks – Gout may not resolve itself on its own. When a patient who only experiences acute gout attacks every few months goes without treatment, they can eventually begin to suffer more frequent and painful attacks as time progresses.
- Permanent joint damage – Tophi aren’t just capable of damaging the soft tissues surrounding a joint. In sufficient quantities they can eventually begin to wear away bone, which may result in nerve compression, further loss of mobility, and permanent disability.
Don’t Let Gout Go Untreated!
Untreated gout may progress to a point where the only viable treatment strategy includes surgery. Arthroscopic surgery is normally successful at removing tophi, especially when it is combined with medications such as allopurinol, febuxostat or probenecid.
Naturally, avoiding the need for surgery is the vastly preferable treatment option for gout. If you experience any of the symptoms commonly associated with gout, seek care from your general practitioner or podiatrist at once. In addition to prescribing medications which will help your body break down uric acid, they can advise dietary and other lifestyle changes that will reduce your discomfort, restore your joints’ range of motion, and significantly reduce your need for future surgery. If you suffer from gout or any other condition which affects the feet, then we welcome you to contact Twin Cities Foot & Ankle Clinic in Golden Valley, MN today. Our podiatrists are standing by to help you manage gout and minimize its impact on your health and your happiness!