Gout is a painful inflammatory condition, caused by the build-up of uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid is a waste product found in blood. It’s created when the body breaks down chemicals called purines. Most uric acid dissolves in the blood, passes through the kidneys and leaves the body in urine. Food and drinks high in purines also increase the level of uric acid.  Excess uric acid can produce uric acid crystals, which then build up in soft tissues and joints, causing the painful symptoms of gout.

Photo of toes

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of gout almost always occur suddenly, and often at night. They can include severe pain, swelling, warmth and residual discomfort.  Gout usually affects the big toe, but it can occur in any joint. Other commonly affected joints include the ankles, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers. The pain is likely to be most severe within the first four to 12 hours after onset.

Who is affected?

Gout mainly occurs in men, over the age of 30, but can affect woman after the menopause.  It is estimated that 1 in 100 people in the UK suffer from gout.

Photo of bar with lots of alcohol

Why does it happen?

We know that people who are overweight, high alcohol consumption, those with high blood pressure, diabetes and some medications can increase the risk of gout.  People may have raised uric acid levels which does not require medications.  However, if the high uric acid causes crystals in joints, this can trigger sudden painful episodes of severe joint inflammation (‘attack’). If untreated these attacks get more common, spread to involve new joints and can cause long-term cartilage and bone damage.

Have I got Gout?

If you experience sudden, intense pain in a joint, call your doctor. Gout that goes untreated can lead to worsening pain and joint damage. Seek medical care immediately if you have a fever and a joint is hot and inflamed, which can be a sign of infection.

For more general information on gout you may find these sites helpful:

NHS website

Versus Arthritis website

UK Gout Society website