What Are the Symptoms of Gout?
Gout is not the result of just one condition — there are several causes of the disease. Some are classified as primary while others arise as a result of other health problems, but all are characterized by joint pain.
Gout is a painful kind of arthritis characterized by the presence of hard crystals in synovial fluid, which bathes and surrounds your joints, reducing friction and providing a cushion.
Advanced microscopy techniques now allow laboratory experts to identify the presence or absence of crystals with better accuracy than ever before. Improved technology affords opportunities for better identification of the type of crystals in the fluid.
Once the correct condition is identified, an effective treatment plan may be developed. Until these techniques were perfected, many people were diagnosed incorrectly with gout.
Careful examination of the synovial fluid offers health care providers with opportunities to rule out infectious diseases with joint pain that may resemble symptoms of gout. Health care providers are also able to determine whether or not the joint is inflamed or not, which provides further clues to the origin of the problem.
Kinds of Gout
Primary gout is due to an innate hereditary problem that results in the buildup of uric acid within the body. 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with primary gout are male; the condition is virtually nonexistent in premenopausal women.
Secondary gout develops as a result of acquired metabolic problems or medication. Certain types of chemotherapy, such as those used to treat some leukemias, increase the likelihood of gout development.
The most common type of gout — or crystal-induced arthritis — is the monosodium urate (MSU) type, which is characterized by uric acid crystals in the synovial fluid. Other kinds of gout arise due to the presence of various types of calcium crystals.
Purines, Uric Acid and MSU
Purines are chemical compounds that break down into uric acid. Uric acid is formed when proteins are broken down, such as when meat is eaten, and is eliminated from the body via the urinary tract.
Uric acid levels become elevated in the blood when metabolic processes are disrupted. Too much uric acid may arise due to many health conditions — elevated uric acid levels in the blood do not necessarily mean gout is present.
The only definitive way to diagnose gout with 100 percent accuracy is by measuring elevated uric acid levels in the bloodstream and finding crystals within the synovial fluid. Other conditions that cause uric acid levels to rise, thereby increasing the chances for gout development, include:
- Acidosis or ketosis
- Alcoholism or excessive acute alcohol intake
- Respiratory illness
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Kidney disease
- Sickle cell anemia
- Prolonged fasting
Characteristics of MSU and Gout
Gout used to be referred to as a rich man’s disease because symptoms were most common among wealthy males who were overweight, drank excessive amounts of alcohol, and ate lots of meat and rich foods. Indeed, these habits contribute to uric acid buildup in the body, so the traditional view of gout as a rich man’s disease was actually fairly accurate in centuries past.
Next page: what are the signs and symptoms of a gout flare-up?