How Do I Know If I Have Gout?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 10, 2023
3 min read

Your joints hurt. Somebody you know said it might be gout. But how do you know if that’s really the problem? Gout can be hard to diagnose. That’s because some of the signs are like those for other conditions.

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the blood. It can form tiny crystals that settle in your joints. An attack often starts with pain in the big toe, but it can spread or involve other joints. It may happen after an illness or injury.

Gout usually affects just one joint at a time. But if it isn’t treated, other joints may hurt too. Attacks that came from time to time may become constant.

In the U.S., about 1 person in 50 gets gout. It’s more common in men than in women and children. And it tends to run in families. You have a higher risk of gout if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Eat foods high in purines (anchovies, asparagus, dried beans, liver, sardines, gravy, beer, and animal organs)
  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Take certain medicines

A gout attack will usually go away in about 3 to 10 days. But you can feel better sooner if you treat it. To be sure that you have gout, see your doctor. They’ll examine you, and they might do some tests.

These test help your doctor know if you have gout, or something else with similar symptoms:

  • Joint fluid test. Fluid is taken from the painful joint with a needle. The fluid is studied under a microscope to see if the crystals are there.
  • Blood test. A blood test can check the level of uric acid. A high level of uric acid doesn’t always mean gout.
  • X-ray. Images of the joints will help rule out other problems.
  • Ultrasound. This painless test uses sound waves to look for areas of uric acid deposits.

The pain and redness of gout can look like an infection or other conditions.

The good news is that gout can be controlled with medicine. To manage the pain, apply ice, raise the affected area, rest, and take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen. These steps can help prevent another gout attack:

  • Exercise and eat a balanced diet to control your weight.
  • Drinking lots of water may help prevent uric acid stones. 
  • Stay away from sugary drinks.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Eat less meat and seafood. Get protein from things like low-fat dairy products (yogurt, cheese, milk).
  • Take medicines to lower uric acid levels.

People with gout usually do quite well once they learn to manage an attack and prevent future attacks. The first step is see your doctor to make sure that gout is the real cause of those red, painful, swollen joints.