Are those aches and pains just normal signs of approaching middle age, another type of arthritis, or is it gout? How can you tell? What does gout feel like, and when should you see your doctor about joint pain?
What, Exactly, Is Gout?
Commonly called gouty arthritis, this is a very painful disease that occurs when uric acid – a bodily waste product – builds up to abnormally high levels in the bloodstream. When that happens, excess uric acid forms into sharp, needle like crystals that are deposited in joints and/or soft tissues. As these crystals collect in the joints, they cause a form of inflammatory arthritis, which leads to swelling, pain, stiffness and heat in the affected joint or joints and gout.
In most cases, gout will begin with a flare-up of symptoms in just one joint – often the joint at the base of a big toe. From there, intermittent attacks may occur in other joints, most commonly in the insteps or heels of the feet, ankles, knees, fingers, wrists and elbows. As the disease progresses, it can become chronic, causing constant, low level pain in affected joints and, in many cases, the development of tophi. These are deposits of uric acid crystals that form nodules, or lumps, under the skin surrounding affected joints, inside joints, or on cartilage or bone throughout the body. Uric acid can also collect in the kidneys, leading to a type of kidney stones.
What Does Gout Feel Like?
Gout causes sudden, intense bouts of joint pain and inflammation. Attacks frequently begin at night, with a person going off to bed feeling just fine, then waking in the middle of the night or in the morning with intense, burning pain, usually in just one joint, along with tenderness, swelling, warmth and tight, reddened skin.
When asked the question “What does gout feel like,” many patients describe pain and tenderness so intense that even the light touch of a sheet or clothing causes excruciating pain.
Many will also experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, fatigue and general malaise. Left untreated, gout flare-ups may last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.
When to See Your Doctor
If you experience severe, burning pain in a single joint that comes on very quickly and is accompanied by swelling, redness and warmth, it’s time to see your doctor – even if the symptoms have already resolved themselves. The fact is that the vast majority of people who suffer an attack of gout will experience more of them as time goes on, especially if they do not seek treatment.
Additionally, the high uric acid levels that prompt a first gout attack are generally still present once it has passed, doing gradual damage to the joints, tendons and other tissues, as well as the kidneys. With early diagnosis and treatment, that damage can be minimized or even, in some cases, avoided entirely, as can further excruciating acute attacks and the development of more serious, chronic forms of gout.
So the bottom line answer to the question “What does gout feel like?” is that it hurts, and miserably so, and that misery often seems to come out of nowhere. As for when to go to your doctor – the answer is as quickly as you can, once those first symptoms appear, since effective treatment can prevent more of that misery.