The specific symptoms of gout depend on the stage of the disease. Gout is often divided into four stages:
Asymptomatic means there are no symptoms. Asymptomatic hyperuricemia is considered the first stage of gout. MSU levels slowly increase in the body. This stage lasts for an average of 30 years.
Note: Hyperuricemia does not inevitably lead to gout. In fact, less than 20% of cases develop the full-blown arthritic gout disease.
Acute gouty arthritis occurs when the first symptoms of gout appear. Sometimes the first signs of gout are brief twinges of pain (petit attacks) in an affected joint. These attacks can precede the actual full-blown condition by several years.
MSU crystals form at normal body temperature when the concentration of uric acid in the blood reaches 7 mg/dL. At lower temperatures, MSU crystals form at lower concentrations of uric acid. Since blood temperature falls the further blood gets from the heart, gout usually strikes the toes and fingers first.
Symptoms of acute gouty arthritis include:
Most often symptoms start in one joint.
Monoarticular Gout. Gout that occurs in one joint is called monoarticular gout. About 60% of all first-time monoarticular gout attacks in middle-aged adults occur in the big toe. This occurrence is known as podagra. Symptoms can also occur in other locations, such as the ankle or knee.
Polyarticular Gout. If more than one joint is affected, the condition is known as polyarticular gout. Multiple joints are affected in only 10 - 20% of first attacks. Older people are more likely to have polyarticular gout. The most frequently affected joints are the foot, ankle, knee, wrist, elbow, and hand. The pain usually occurs in joints on one side of the body and it is usually, although not always, in the lower legs and the feet. People with polyarticular gout are more likely to have a slower onset of pain and a longer delay between attacks. People with polyarticular gout are also more likely to experience low-grade fever, loss of appetite, and a general feeling of poor health.
An untreated attack will typically peak 24 - 48 hours after the first appearance of symptoms, and go away after 5 - 7 days. However, some attacks last only hours, while others persist as long as several weeks.
Intercritical gout is the term used to describe the periods between attacks. The first attack is usually followed by a complete remission of symptoms, but, if left untreated, gout nearly always returns. Over two-thirds of patients will have at least one further attack within 2 years of the first attack. By 10 years, over 90% of the patients are likely to have repeat attacks.
Chronic Tophaceous Gout and Tophi. After several years, persistent gout can develop into a condition called chronic tophaceous gout. This long-term condition often produces tophi, which are solid deposits of MSU crystals that form in the joints, cartilage, bones, and elsewhere in the body. In some cases, tophi break through the skin and appear as white or yellowish-white, chalky nodules that have been described as looking like crab eyes.
Without treatment, tophi develop about 10 years after the initial onset of gout, although the occurrence can range from 3 to 42 years. Tophi are more likely to appear early in the course of the disease in older people. In the elderly population, women appear to be at higher risk for tophi than men. Certain people, such as those who are receiving cyclosporine after a transplant, have a high risk of developing tophi.
Development of Chronic Pain. When gout remains untreated, the intercritical periods typically become shorter and shorter, and the attacks, although sometimes less intense, can last longer. Over the long term (about 10 - 20 years) gout becomes a chronic disorder characterized by constant low-grade pain and mild or acute inflammation. Gout may eventually affect several joints, including those that may have been free of symptoms at the first appearance of the disorder. In rare cases, the shoulders, hips, or spine are affected.
Location of Tophi. Tophi generally form in the following locations:
Tophi are generally painless. However, they can cause pain and stiffness in the affected joint. Eventually, they can also erode cartilage and bone, ultimately destroying the joint. Large tophi under the skin of the hands and feet can give rise to extreme deformities.
Uric Acid Nephrolithiasis (Kidney Stones). Persons who have kidney stones that formed from uric acid are more likely to have higher levels of uric acid in their blood than in their urine. This suggests that gout is responsible for this type of kidney stones. Uric acid stones and other forms of kidney stones are present in 10 - 25% of patients with primary gout, a rate of more than 1,000 times that of the general population. In gout caused by other conditions (called secondary gout), the reported rate reaches 42%.
Not all of the kidney stones in patients with gout are made of uric acid. Some are made from calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, or substances combined with uric acid. Uric acid stones can also form when you do not have gout or hyperuricemia.
Chronic Uric Acid Interstitial Nephropathy. Chronic uric acid interstitial nephropathy occurs when crystals slowly form in the structures and tubes that carry fluid from the kidney. It is reversible and not likely to injure the kidneys.
Kidney Failure. Sudden overproduction of uric acid can occasionally block the kidneys and cause them to fail. This occurrence is very uncommon but can develop after any of the following:
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