Gout is a form of arthritis that causes attacks of intense pain, heat and swelling in your joints. It typically develops in your foot, especially your big toe, but it can affect other joints too.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is gout?

Gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis. It can develop if there's too much uric acid in your blood. Uric acid is a chemical produced by your body, but usually it's flushed away in your urine. If it builds up in your blood, it causes crystals to form around your joints. Crystals build up slowly, but if they work loose into the space inside your joint (synovial cavity), they can trigger an acute attack of inflammation.

Treatment for gout includes:

  • Diet changes
  • Longer-term medication
  • Pain relief for flare-ups

 If not treated, gout can lead to joint damage and chronic arthritis.

How to tell if you have gout

Most people only find out they have gout when they have their first acute attack. Gout symptoms may come on quickly, often at night, and cause extreme joint pain, and swelling and heat in a joint. Gout symptoms most often affect joints in your limbs, such as your:

  • Big toe
  • Elbow
  • Finger
  • Knee (swollen)
  • Wrist
  • Foot (pain)

The skin over your joint may be red and shiny, or peel.

You should see your GP if you have any of these symptoms.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for gout

Your GP will assess your symptoms and they:

  • Will ask about your lifestyle, your diet and how much alcohol you drink
  • May arrange blood tests, an ultrasound scan or X-ray to check for inflammation of your joints
  • May take a sample of fluid from your joint using a thin needle (synovial fluid examination)

If your GP thinks you have gout, they may refer you to a rheumatologist (specialist in arthritis and joints).

Causes of gout

These factors may increase the risk of developing gout:

  • Age – gout is most common in people aged 75 or over
  • Family history – people whose parents or grandparents have or had gout are more likely to develop it
  • Gender – gout is more common in men than women
  • Kidney disease – if you have kidney disease, you may be less able to filter uric acid from your blood
  • Metabolic conditions – if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, you're at higher risk if your condition affects your kidney function
  • Weight – being overweight or obese is linked to a higher risk of gout

Common treatments for gout

Treatments to soothe a flare-up may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg ibuprofen or colchicine)
  • An ice pack to cool your joint
  • Protecting and resting your joint
  • Steroid tablets or injections

Lifestyle changes that can help prevent further attacks include:

  • Avoiding foods such as offal (eg liver and kidneys), seafood, full-fat dairy foods and sugary drinks and snacks
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Exercising regularly
  • Giving up smoking
  • Having at least two alcohol-free days a week
  • Losing weight if you're overweight

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