Gout is an extremely painful form of arthritis—so painful that most patients can't even bear the weight of a bedsheet on the tender joint. Gout's throbbing pain often hits at night, turning the skin red-hot and leaving the affected joint swollen and tender for 5 to 10 days.
Once considered the domain of royalty, gout is actually a fairly common disorder, affecting more than 2 million Americans who happen to have excessive levels of uric acid, a waste product from body tissues. We all have uric acid in our blood, which carries it to the kidneys to be excreted in urine. But if you experience gout, either you produce too much uric acid or you produce a normal amount but don't excrete enough, says Branton Lachman, Pharm.D. Either way, the excess turns into tiny crystals that collect in joints, causing intense inflammation and pain.
Often the big toe is the prime target, but almost any joint can become a sore point. While any adult can fall prey to gout, the typical victim is a middle-aged male, who may be overweight and have a family history of the disease. If you're a current—or potential—sufferer, heed these dos and don'ts.
If you experience sudden and intense pain in a joint, call your doctor. Even if the pain goes away in a day or two, it is important to see your doctor, because gout left untreated can only lead to more pain and joint damage.
Your doctor can prescribe a number of prescription medications to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain during a gout attack, including corticosteroids such as prednisone.
Once an attack has passed, your doctor may prescribe a medication to lower your uric acid in an attempt to prevent future attacks. You also may receive colchicine, an anti-gout medicine used for thousands of years, now sold under the names allopurinol and probenecid.
John Abruzzo, M.D., is director of the division of rheumatology and a professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Eleonore Blaurock-Busch, Ph.D., is associate laboratory director of King James Medical Laboratory and Trace Minerals International, both in Cleveland. She is also the director of Micro Trace Minerals in Hersbruck, Germany and author of several books.
Robert H. Davis, Ph.D., was formerly a professor of physiology at the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia.
Felix O. Kolb, M.D., is a clinical professor emeritus of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.
Branton Lachman, Pharm.D., J.D., is a practicing attorney and consultant pharmacist in Corona, California. He has also taught at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, Western State College of Law, Southern California Law School, and within the California public school system.
Jeffrey R. Lisse, M.D., is a professor of medicine, head of clinical osteoporosis research, and associate chief of the Arthritis Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Gary Stoehr, Pharm.D., is an professor of medicine, head of clinical osteoporosis research, and associate chief of Arizona Arthritis Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Gary. P. Stoehr, Pharm.D., is associate dean for assessment and curricular outcomes at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.
Agatha Thrash, M.D., is a pathologist who lectures worldwide. She is also cofounder of Uchee Pines Institute, a nonprofit health-training center in Seale, Alabama, and author of many books.
Robert Wortmann, M.D., is a professor of medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.