What Is Gout? What Causes It?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 02, 2022
2 min read

Gout is a type of arthritis that happens when you have too much uric acid in your blood and it forms sharp crystals in one or more of your joints. This usually happens in your big toe, but you also can have gout in your knee, ankle, foot, hand, wrist, or elbow.

Attacks are sudden and cause serious pain, often with redness and swelling around the joint. They usually last 3 to 10 days, but the first 36 hours are typically the most painful. After the first attack, some people don’t have another one for months or maybe years.

Men outnumber women 3-to-1 on gout. It’s also more common in men over 40. Women are more likely to get it after menopause.

You’re more at risk if you’re overweight and drink alcohol often. You also might be more likely to have it if you:

Your body makes uric acid to break down a chemical called purine. This chemical is naturally in your body and also in some foods, including red meat, shellfish, and sugary drinks like cola or juice.

In normal amounts, uric acid dissolves in your blood, and leaves your body when you pee. But if your body makes too much uric acid (hyperuricemia) or if it doesn’t get rid of enough of it, crystals form and collect in your joints and cause gout.

Uric acid buildup also can lead to disfiguring lumps called tophi that form around the affected joint. And if the crystals accumulate in the urinary tract, they can cause kidney stones.

If you have a gout flare-up, call your doctor right away. You can take anti-inflammatory medicine (like aspirin and ibuprofen), ice the inflamed area and drink plenty of fluids.