Gout is a type of arthritis that results when a by-product of digestion known as uric acid is over-produced by the body, or cannot be cleared from the body by the kidneys properly. Excess blood uric acid (hyperuricemia) can accumulate in the body and lead to the formation of uric acid crystals in joints. These uric acid crystals are identified as ‘foreign invaders’ and attacked by the immune system. This ‘attack’ results in intense pain, swelling and inflammation (often described as sharp, intense or burning). The symptoms of gout often mimic those of pseudo-gout, or “false gout”. The difference between the two is that while gout is characterized by uric acid crystals; pseudo-gout is characterized by calcium in the joint, especially in the knee.
Gout often afflicts the big toe (i.e. podagra) making it very difficult to walk. The reason why gout flare-ups tend to target the big toe is unclear but may be because of the great deal of pressure that is placed on it from walking; or because it is cooler than the central part of the body and cool temperatures promote uric acid crystal formation. Gout can also affect the ankle, knee, hand, wrist and elbow, especially among post-menopausal women.
Gout can be a very painful and disabling condition. Untreated and unmanaged gout can potentially lead to permanent joint damage or complications such as kidney stones, decreased kidney function, diabetes and heart problems.
If gout is ineffectively treated, uric acid may also accumulate in the soft tissue of joints to form chalky and gritty deposits of uric acid crystals called tophi.