The word gout comes from Latin gutta and old French gote meaning "a drop". Several hundred years ago gout was thought to be caused by drops of viscous humors that seeped from blood into the joints. In fact, this supposition was not that far from the truth. When a patient experiences the symptoms of a gout attack uric acid has been accumulating in his blood, and uric acid deposits have been forming in the joints.
Gout is a complex disorder, it is more prevalent among men, and afflicts women more commonly after the menopause. Men have higher uric acid levels in their blood than women.
What are the symptoms of gout?
Signs and symptoms of gout are generally acute - they come on suddenly without warning. A significant proportion of patients experience them at night.
- Severe pain in the joints - The patient may experience pain in his ankles, hands, wrists, knees or feet. More commonly the big toe is affected (podagra). Many patients describe the affected areas as warm/hot. The fluid sacs that cushion tissue (bursae) may become inflamed (bursitis) - when this happens in the elbow it is called olcranon bursitis, while in the knee prepatellar bursitis.
- Gradually goes away - A bout can last for over a week if left untreated - and then gradually goes away during the following week or two.
- Itchy and peeling skin later - As the gout subsides the skin around the affected area may be itchy and peel. By the end of it the patient feels fine.
- Redness and inflammation - The sufferer will most likely have tender, red and swollen joint(s) in the areas that experienced the most pain.
- Red/purplish skin - The affected area may become red or purplish, making the patient think he has an infection.
- Fever - Some patients have an elevated temperature.
- Less flexibility - The affected joint may be harder to use, the patient has limited movement.
- No symptoms - Some patients experience no symptoms. In these cases it may develop into chronic gout.
- Nodules - The gout may first appear as tophi (nodules) in the elbows, hands, or ears.