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What is gout?

Gout is a painful arthritic condition that affects one or more of your joints, and is caused by increased levels of uric acid in your blood.

Anyone can get gout, but it is uncommon in pre-menopausal women and more common in men over 40. It is also more common in older people who take diuretics. A ‘gout attack’ – which often comes on suddenly – will last about one week. If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to your joints.

Gout is a common type of arthritis that causes extreme pain in one or more of your joints. The affected joint can become red, swollen, tender and inflamed almost overnight; and will stay that way for a week or two if left untreated.

Gout usually affects one joint at a time – and it’s often the big toe! Other joints that are typically affected include the mid foot, ankle, knee, wrist, elbow or fingers.

After one gout attack, you may not have another for months or years. But if you don’t manage the gout properly, subsequent attacks can become more frequent and severe – and progress into more chronic conditions.

Sufferers of gout find that living with the pain can be very difficult. Your doctor will prescribe medications to reduce the pain and inflammation.

Gout can be prevented by making lifestyle changes. Cutting down the amount of alcohol you drink, losing weight and making changes to your diet will all reduce the risk of gout. A diet lower in foods containing purine (which converts into uric acid in your body) can also help. Some of the foods to avoid include most meats, shell fish and beer.

There are also medicines you can take to reduce the amount of uric acid in your blood, and thus lower the likelihood of contracting gout.

Symptoms of gout

Your joint will be:

  • Red, warm to the touch and swollen
  • Very sore to touch
  • Restricted in movement

Causes of gout

Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in your blood. Uric acid crystals can then deposit in and around joints causing inflammation. This occurs when your body makes too much uric acid and/or your kidneys aren’t flushing this acid out of your body quickly enough. Some of the triggers can include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • High cholesterol
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney disease
  • Taking diuretics (fluid tablets often taken for heart disease or high blood pressure)
  • Being overweight

Diagnosis and Treatment of Gout

Your doctor will diagnose gout by testing the uric acid levels in your blood and look for urate crystals in the fluid in the affected joint. Once they are certain that you have gout, they will likely prescribe a range of medicines to reduce the pain and inflammation. Some people who suffer recurrent attacks of gout might need preventative medicine.

As part of your gout treatment, it is also a good idea to rest the affected joint during recovery and shield it from contact with other materials. Applying ice packs may help to relieve the pain.

Avoiding foods that can raise uric acid levels is also important

  • meat – particularly red meat and offal, such as liver, kidneys and heart
  • seafood – particularly shellfish, scallops, mussels, sardines and anchovies
  • foods containing yeast – such as Vegemite and beer.

Further information and sources


This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of gout.

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