Gout is a very painful type of arthritis that is characterized by pain, swelling, heat, tenderness, and stiffness in the joints. It is caused by a buildup of needle-like crystals called uric acid in the body that can become deposited in the joints. The deposit of uric acid in the joints is what causes gout.

Uric acid is a byproduct of another chemical compound called a purine. Purines are normally found in the body. A person may get gout because the body makes too much uric acid, their kidneys do not get rid of uric acid, or because they eat too many foods that are high in purines.

Gout most commonly affects the big toe. Other areas include the foot, ankle, knee, hand, wrist, and elbow.

Once you've had one gout attack, there's a chance that you will get more gout attacks in the future and they may last longer and affect other joints. Unfortunately, gout may even become a chronic problem for some people. The good news is that there are many ways that you can prevent or minimize the symptoms of gout attacks.

Here are some helpful tips for dealing with gout:

  • If you are taking medication for gout, take them as recommended by your doctor and pharmacist.
  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist about all medications (prescription and non-prescription), vitamins, supplements, and herbal products that you take to find out if any of them may increase the chances of a gout attack.
  • Drink plenty of water. Fluids can help to remove excess uric acid from the body.
  • Avoid alcohol as it can increase the amount of uric acid in the body.
  • Avoid foods that are high in purines. Common examples include organ meats (e.g., liver, kidney, heart, gizzard, brain), certain types of seafood (e.g., scallops, herring, mackerel, sardines), gravy, sweetbreads, mushrooms, asparagus, and dried beans and peas.
  • Eat more moderate amounts of protein. Healthier sources include low-fat dairy, eggs, and nuts.
  • Recent research has indicated that soft drinks sweetened with sugar can increase the risk of gout. This is likely because these drinks contain large amounts of fructose, a sugar that increases uric acid levels. Consider drinking diet soft drinks instead, as these are not sweetened with fructose. Some sweet fruits are much higher in fructose than others. Talk to your doctor about limiting the amount of fructose in your diet.
  • Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise and stretches can help build strength and flexibility in the muscles around the affected joints. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Protect your joints. Use care when carrying heavy loads and avoid staying in the same position for a long time. Consider using devices to assist you in your daily activities, such as canes, carts, reaching aids, and grab bars in the bathroom.
  • Use cold therapy. Applying a cold pack to the affected area can decrease inflammation and numb the pain. Avoid heat as this can worsen an already inflamed joint.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases uric acid levels.