Gout is a common and painful form of arthritis. It causes severe joint pain and swelling, especially in your toes, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers. If left untreated, gout can cause serious damage to your joints, kidneys and quality of life.

Key points

  1. Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in your blood. The uric acid forms crystals in your joints.
  2. High uric acid levels are mainly due to genetic factors. While common in Māori and Pasifika men, gout is not normal – see your doctor if you have the symptoms.
  3. If you have more than two attacks of gout per year, your doctor may prescribe a medication to prevent further attacks by lowering your uric acid levels. The key to preventing gout attacks is getting uric acid levels to below 0.36 mmol/L.
  4. If left untreated gout can cause permanent damage to your joints and harm your kidneys.
  5. With effective treatment, a gout attack may be controlled within 12–24 hours. Medication and lifestyle changes can help prevent gout attacks.

What are the symptoms of gout?

The symptoms of gout include severe pain in one or more joints. In most cases, gout affects one joint at a time.

  • The joint most commonly affected is the large toe. Other sites include your forefoot, instep, heel, ankle and knee. Gout is uncommon in the upper body, but it can affect your fingers, wrists and elbows.
  • Gout attacks are very painful. A gout attack usually begins suddenly, often at night. Within hours, the joint becomes red, swollen, hot and painful. This is due to uric acid crystals in the joint causing sudden inflammation.
  • The pain and tenderness can be so severe that even gentle pressure from bedding is a problem. Even though only one small joint is affected, the inflammation can be intense enough to cause fever, muscle aches and other flu-like symptoms.
  • An attack usually lasts for 5 to 10 days but in rare cases, it can continue for weeks.

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