Knocking Out Gout – Why You SHOULD Have Your Toe Pain Treated
It’s the middle of the night and all you want is a little shut-eye. But you wake up to that searing pain in your toe again, and even the weight of a bed sheet over it is more than you can bear. A bad sprain?…Probably not. What you really could be suffering from is gout – and it’s high time you get to know the difference. Here are the facts.
What is gout? And who gets it?
Gout is a type of painful, inflammatory (red, swollen) arthritis caused by the buildup of a salt called uric acid in the joints and other places in the body.
It’s actually the most frequently occurring type of inflammatory arthritis in men over 40, but it’s even common for men in their 20’s and 30’s. With that said, it’s not out of the ordinary that women experience gout as well, yet most often women encounter this after menopause. If you’re dealing with a case of gout yourself, you might feel like you’re the only one, as this condition isn’t always the hot topic of medical conversations. But in reality, there are an estimated 8.3 million people with gout in the U.S. at this time – almost 3% of the population!
Why is gout important to recognize?
Since painful gout episodes only last a week or less, particularly when they first start, why is it so important to see your healthcare provider about gout? Consider these 4 reasons:
- Experiencing gout attacks can be extremely painful, and frankly, it’s worth treating for that reason alone.
- Gout is a chronic and progressive medical problem, meaning it will usually get worse over time if left untreated.
- There are complications from gout that can be prevented with treatment, such as “lumps” of uric acid just under the skin (called “tophi”), kidney stones, and even joint damage.
- Gout is very treatable, and the vast majority of patients can be made “attack-free” if they take their medicine regularly.
What are the clues?
The most common way for it to start is with severe pain in the base of the big toe – accompanied by heat, redness, swelling, and tenderness. The first attacks, usually lasting 3-7 days, can be temporarily relieved with anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. ibuprofen over-the-counter). But attacks later down the road tend to occur closer together and feel much more severe. And it might not just be your toes! Other joints susceptible to gout are located in the mid-foot, ankle, knee and elbow.
Do any other conditions tend to “travel” with gout?
Yes, gout can be frequently associated with other conditions. They include coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol/triglycerides, and abnormal kidney function. If you have any of these conditions, your healthcare provider will need to consider them when making a decision about the best medications for your gout.
What are some misconceptions about gout?
One recurrent misconception is that experiencing attacks is “your fault” because of what you ate or drank. Well this is only one side of the story – it is actually a genetic disease, and while certain foods can set off attacks, this is only likely if you have a genetic predisposition for having gout in the first place. Though you do have to watch your diet, it’s likely medication will be required as part of your treatment.
Another mistaken belief is that once you’ve started treatment for your gout, it’s not as important to let the doctor know when you suffer an attack. Wrong! If you’re still experiencing these episodes of pain despite active treatment, your healthcare provider can modify the steps you’re taking to get better and render attacks much less frequent.
What will your healthcare provider need to know to make a diagnosis– and to develop a treatment plan for you?
In order to make a diagnosis, a blood test of the uric acid level usually does the trick. If any question remains about whether or not you have gout, obtaining fluid from an inflamed joint and having it evaluated for uric acid crystals will allow for a definite diagnosis. In some cases, a joint x-ray will also show damage in a pattern that suggests gout. To help your doctor or orthopedic specialist help you, knowing your blood chemistry and your other medical problems will provide support in designing a proper treatment plan.
If you think you might be suffering, why wait? Spare yourself the prolonged pain and see your doctor or orthopedic specialist to get to the root of the problem. Once again, gout is a very treatable condition. It just takes understanding how to recognize it and knowing you can and should seek help!
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Dr. Meredith Warner is a board certified, Fellowship Trained Foot and Ankle, Orthopedic surgeon practicing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dr. Warner is committed to offering her patients an accurate diagnosis along with a comprehensive treatment plan in order to get them back to a pain free life. Dr. Meredith Warner specializes in the treatment of orthopedic issues, providing operative and non-operative treatment plans of orthopedic problems, including musculoskeletal pain such as chronic back, neck and foot pain, reconstructive surgery of the foot and ankle, arthritis, diabetic, hammer toe, bunion, wound care, work injuries, fitness and nutrition and osteoporosis issues.