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Gout can strike suddenly and make life hell. Would you recognize the symptoms, and what are the treatment options?

Terry, a 59 year old man, started experiencing pain so excruciating that he could hardly walk around a year ago. He went to see his family doctor, who suggested that he was suffering from arthritis. He had blood work done, but remained without a clear diagnosis and without a treatment plan. The pain seemed to fade away after a while, and he hoped that it was nothing more than a freak episode. Unfortunately, he was wrong: six months later, the pain returned with a vengeance. 

By this time, some joints on his right foot were so swollen that he wasn't able to wear his shoes any more. This, it was obvious, was a sign that it was time to see the doctor again. After further blood tests, it turned out that Terry had gout

What Is Gout?

Terry's doctor had initially been right: gout is indeed a form of arthritis, but a complex form. Repeated attacks of excruciating pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness in joints are the tell-tale signs of this condition. Though it can strike anyone of any age, gout is more common in men. It's cause? Too much uric acid in the patient's blood. This excess alone isn't a guarantee that someone will end up with gout, though. Uric acid is formed from purine, a substance that's naturally present in the body as well as in some foods. The body normally dissolves purine, after which it is eliminated by the kidneys. When that doesn't happen, the uric acid can cause urate crystals, which accumulate in the joints and cause gout.

The fact that Terry is a man put him at a higher risk of gout, but his other risk factors could have been taken out of a textbook as well: he's overweight, he used to be a fishmonger and still loves eating fish, drinks beer almost every night, and he's on diuretics for his high blood pressure. 

Could You Have Gout?

The onset of symptoms is almost always very sudden, and may occur at night. Severe joint pain is a big one, and though it often affects the joint of the big toe, it can also strike other parts of the foot, the hands, the knees, or the wrists. A gout-stricken joint will be red, warm, swollen, and tender, and discomfort can persist for weeks — even when an attack subsides. Subsequent attacks are likely to last longer and leave worse and longer lingering consequences. As the condition progresses, patients will see a decreased mobility of the affected joints. 

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