What is Gout? Read why the excrutiating condition is no laughing matter…

Previously viewed a bit too light-hearted, almost as a bit of a joke, gout is anything but a laughing matter. It is actually the most prevailing type of inflammatory arthritis but in years gone by gout was typically looked upon as something that only over-indulgers picked up; those who had been hitting the wine and red meat a little too hard.

With the quality of medical care vastly improved over the past few decades, life expectancy is higher than ever and more people are now experiencing this painful, debilitating condition – simply put it is nothing to be mocked about and is a serious problem that requires the appropriate treatment, such as through Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which work to reduce the level of pain and inflammation. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen.

Gout causes pain and swelling to one of more joints. Although it usually strikes in the big toe, gout can attack other joints such as those in the elbows, knees, feet and ankles and those in your hands, fingers and wrists.

Symptoms of gout commonly occur at night, but can arise at any point during the day. Other symptoms include: swelling (inflammation) in and surrounding the affected joint, red, shiny skin over the affected joint and peeling, itchy and flaky skin over the affected joint as the swelling decreases.

Gout is caused by a build-up of a chemical in the blood called uric acid (urate), which is a waste product that is transmitted through the kidneys and into your urine so it can be removed from the body. The level of uric acid in your blood can increase if your kidneys are not passing uric acid fast enough or if your body produces too much uric acid.

High levels of uric acid result in the formation of tiny crystals in your tissues, commonly in and around the joints. These crystals could leak from the joint cartilage into the joint space, causing the soft lining (synovium) to react. It is this which produces the intense swelling and pain you experience. As crystals thrive at a cooler body temperature, this is why gout is more prominent in the fingers and toes.

Risk factors for the development of gout include medical problems that induce a rise in uric acid levels, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity, having high lipid levels (high cholesterol) and long-term deterioration in kidney function. Other risk factors include lifestyle ones, such as diet. For example, eating too much red meat or seafood and drinking too much alcohol (especially beer) can put you at risk, whereas having psoriasis can occasionally cause your body to make too much uric acid.

Self-care techniques when a gout attack strikes are primarily aimed at preventing further attacks and relieving symptoms. When you experience an attack, it is important to rest and elevate (raise) your limb and try to avoid hitting or damaging the afflicted joint.

You should also keep the joint as cool as possible, remove any clothing actually on the joint and apply an ice pack to the area. Ice wrapped inside a towel, or even a frozen bag of peas should do the trick!

Keep the ice pack or bag of peas on the joint for about 20 minutes. The ice should not be applied directly on the skin and this procedure should not be carried out for over 20 minutes at a time due to risk of skin damage.

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