Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood. The acid can form needle-like crystals in a joint and cause sudden, severe episodes of pain, tenderness, redness, warmth and swelling.
An acute gout attack happens when something (such as a night of drinking) causes uric acid levels to spike or jostles the crystals that have formed in a joint, triggering the attack. The resulting inflammation and pain usually strike at night and intensify over the next 8 to 12 hours. Most initial attacks occur in the foot, especially the big toe or ankle. The involved area is typically swollen, red, and warm to touch. The pain is usually quite severe and can be incapacitating. The symptoms ease after a few days and are likely to go away in a week to 10 days. Some people never experience a second attack, but an estimated 60% of people who have a gout attack will have a second attack within one year. Overall, 84% may have another attack within three years.
Interval gout is the time between attacks. Although there’s no pain, the gout isn't gone. Low-level inflammation may be damaging joints. This is the time to begin managing gout - via lifestyle changes and medication - to prevent future attacks or chronic gout.
Chronic gout develops in people with gout whose uric acid levels remain high over a number of years. Attacks become more frequent and the pain may not go away as it used to. Joint damage may occur, which can lead to loss of mobility. With proper management and treatment, this stage is preventable.
Gout occurs in about 4% of American adults - about 6 million men and 2 million women. Gout is more common in men than women until around age 60. Experts believe natural estrogen protects women up to that point.