According to the National Institutes of Health, gout occurs when needle-like crystals of uric acid build up in connective tissue, in the joint space between two bones, or in both. Most people with gout have too much uric acid in their blood, a condition called hyperuricemia. Uric acid is a substance that results from the breakdown of purines, which are part of all human tissue and are found in many foods.
Gout frequently first attacks the joints in the big toe. The affected joint may become swollen, red or warm. Attacks usually occur at night. To confirm a diagnosis of gout, the doctor inserts a needle into the inflamed joint and draws a sample of synovial fluid, the substance that lubricates a joint. A laboratory technician places some of the fluid on a slide and looks for uric acid crystals under a microscope. If uric acid crystals are found in the fluid surrounding the joint, the person usually has gout.
Physicians often prescribe high doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, or steroids for a sudden attack of gout. NSAIDs are taken by mouth and corticosteroids are either taken by mouth or injected into the affected joint. Patients often begin to improve within a few hours of treatment, and the attack usually goes away completely within a week or so.
Researchers have discovered some of the risk factors for gout. Some people with gout have a family history of the disease. In addition to inherited traits, diet, weight, and alcohol play a role in the development of gout. The disease is more common in men.
Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. In general, people with most forms of arthritis have pain and stiffness in their joints.
The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620.