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What Is Gout? HSS Doctor Explains

Dr. Dee Dee Wu of Hospital for Special Surgery.
Dr. Dee Dee Wu of Hospital for Special Surgery. Photo Credit: HSS

PARAMUS, N.J. -- HSS rheumatologist Dee Dee Wu provides a broader understanding of gout and its treatments in part one of a two-part series.

What is gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by severe joint inflammation (swelling, warmth, redness and tenderness) of one or more joints that results from the deposition of uric acid crystals in the affected joints.

Who is affected by gout?

Gout can occur at any age, but it is more common in individuals over the age of 40. It also affects men earlier in life than women, but the incidence of gout in women rises after menopause to equal that of men. The estimated prevalence of gout in the U.S. ranges from three to eight million people.

What are risk factors for developing gout?

Patients with specific medical conditions such as kidney disease, obesity, hypertension and diabetes, or those with a family history of gout are at an increased risk.

External factors that can increase the risk for gout include:

  • Medications that alter uric acid levels such as diuretics, chemotherapy, cyclosporine or low-dose aspirin
  • Trauma
  • Surgery
  • Dehydration
  • Diet

Consumption of food or drink with high purine content can increase the risk for gout attacks, since purines get converted by the body to uric acid.

What are the signs and symptoms of gout?

Patients with acute gout typically experience abrupt severe joint pain, swelling, warmth and redness that peak in intensity within 24 hours. These attacks frequently occur at night or in the early morning. Most often, patients suffer from inflammation of a single joint, classically the big toe, but any joint can be affected. In some patients, several joints are affected simultaneously. 

Patients with long-standing or poorly controlled gout may accumulate uric acid crystals deposits, known as tophi, under the skin. Tophi are most frequently found on the elbows and tips of the ears, but can also be present in other places, such as the fingers or toes. Some patients with gout will also develop kidney stones composed of uric acid.

Dr. Dee Dee Wu is a Rheumatologist at HSS, specializing in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. Dr. Wu currently practices at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Manhattan campus and the Paramus Outpatient Center.