The most common symptom of gout, which afflicts about three-quarters of gout sufferers, is excruciating pain in the joint at the base of the big toe. However, joints in other parts of the body including the feet, hands, wrists, knees, shoulders, and elbows are fair game for gout attacks. Joints can become so swollen and inflamed that the patient develops a fever and chills.
Gout comes on very suddenly, produces severe pain, and usually lasts three to five days if untreated. However, flare-ups frequently recur and last even longer.
There are several conditions that can result in gout, but the primary cause is an abnormally high level of uric acid in the blood, either from the body's producing too much or from the body's not excreting it properly. Gout is more common in men than in women, possibly because the female body eliminates uric acid more efficiently. The disease often strikes middle-aged males, especially men who are overweight and drink too much alcohol. But healthy people can develop gout, too. For instance, allowing yourself to become severely dehydrated may trigger an attack.
Although gout produces brutal pain, it is rarely life-threatening. However, the condition requires proper diagnosis and treatment by a doctor, who can rule out other causes of joint pain and prescribe effective medications. Once you've seen your physician, however, there are a few things you should do on your own.
1. Don't put any weight on the joint. This usually means staying off your feet as much as possible until the episode subsides. Any pressure you put on the joint will increase the pain and possibly damage the area further.
2. Keep the joint elevated. Let gravity help reduce inflammation by slowing the rush of blood to the gout inflicted joint.
3. Immobilize the joint. The less you move the joint, the better it will feel. Simply lying still will help, though you may want to build a splint for the injured joint. Ask your doctor how, or consult a first-aid guide.
4. Take a nonprescription anti-inflammatory. Inflammation causes swelling, which worsens pain. Both ibuprofen and aspirin are anti-inflammatories, but when taken at low levels, aspirin may actually make the pain worse, so reach for the ibuprofen when treating gout.
5. Avoid icing or heating the area. Unlike other types of pain, gout doesn't respond well to heat or ice therapy.
6. Wear comfortable shoes. For gout sufferers, styles that offer a lot of room for the toes are the best choice.