Gouty Arthritis Symptoms and Treatment

Gout is a progressive, chronic disease that results from an overload of uric acid within the body. This excess of uric acid leads to the formation of tiny crystals of urate, which deposit throughout the tissues within the body, especially in the joints. Gout can lead to something called gouty arthritis, where it can cause recurrent bouts of inflammation within the joints. Chronic gout can lead to deposits of hard uric acid in the joints where it can cause joint destruction, decreased kidney function and kidney stones.

What Causes Gouty Arthritis?

Gouty arthritis is the term used to describe a type of arthritis caused by needle-like deposits of crystalized uric acid. These deposits wedge themselves into the joints and the tissues surrounding the joints where they cause pain and inflammation.

What Are the Symptoms of Gouty Arthritis?

Rather unusually, gouty arthritis tends to strike a single joint at a time, and the most common joint to be affected is the big toe – in fact, it’s estimated that around 75% of patients with gouty arthritis have suffered with severe inflammation of the big toe. Other joints that are commonly affected are the ankles, wrists, fingers, elbows and knees. Pain can be so intense that the individual cannot bear for the inflamed joint to be touched and tenderness can be so intense that even a blanket covering the joint can be painful. Acute gouty arthritis attacks are characterized by warmth, swelling, red skin and local tenderness. These painful attacks usually subside within a few days although they can be persistent.

In chronic gout, hard crystals of uric acid can be felt as hard nodules around the fingers, tips of the elbow, in the ears and around the big toe. These nodules can be felt on some individuals, but other people may have these nodules on their spinal column or on the vocal chords where they cannot be seen.

How is Gouty Arthritis Diagnosed?

Gout may be suspected if the patient goes to their doctor complaining of painful arthritis attacks, particularly at the base of the toes and in the big toe. Ankles and knees will be assessed next as these are also very common areas to be attacked by gout. The most reliable test for a diagnosis of gouty arthritis is finding uric acid crystals in a sample of joint fluid, which is obtained through joint aspiration. This procedure is performed under local anesthetic and can be done right in the doctor’s office. It involves a sterile needle which is used to withdraw the fluid from the inflamed joint. The sample will then be sent to a lab where it will be analyzed. You’ll then get the results through your doctor.

How is Gouty Arthritis Treated?

There are two key goals in treating gouty arthritis. The first is to stop the acute inflammation of the joints affected by arthritis, and the second is to address the long-term management of the disease in order to prevent future gout attacks and also to shrink existing uric acid crystals.

Treatment of an acute gout attack involves taking medication to reduce that inflammation. Other measures can also be taken, such as keeping your fluid levels up, losing weight if you are overweight or obese, reducing your alcohol consumption as this can dehydrate you, and making changes to your diet in order to keep hydrated from your food. Reduce your salt intake as again, this can dehydrate you.  Dietary changes work best when combined with an aerobic exercise program.

Medications that can be used to treat arthritis include pain relievers, such as Tylenol, and non-steroid anti-inflammatory medication in order to reduce pain and to reduce inflammation. Speak to your doctor for more information on gouty arthritis.