GOUT FAST FACT
50% of first-time attacks occur in the big toe.
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Gout is caused by an accumulation of sodium urate crystals in the joints. The crystals form when the amount of uric acid in the body reaches an abnormally high level.
Everyone has uric acid, which is naturally present in small amounts. It’s a waste product that results from the body’s normal process of cells dying and releasing purines. It also accumulates from the body absorbing purines contained in some foods.
Normally, uric acid is dissolved in the blood and passes through the kidneys into the urine. But, when more uric acid is produced than the kidneys can eliminate, the elevated level is known as hyperuricemia*.
After years of sustained hyperuricemia, the body may store excess uric acid up to several times higher than the normal level. The uric acid may crystallize in joints and some other tissues. When the crystals accumulate in the joints they can set the stage for a painful attack of gout.
Once someone has hyperuricemia, any of the following can trigger a painful attack:
- Trauma, such as banging the big toe or sustained impact to the feet as a result of taking a long walk
- Prolonged bed rest following surgery
- Excessive consumption of purine-rich foods or alcohol
Get the Lowdown on Lowering Elevated Uric Acid Level
Most experts agree that lowering a person’s uric acid level can prevent the consequences of hyperuricemia and gout. Your physician can measure your serum uric acid level through a simple blood test. Just as it’s important to monitor your cholesterol level, it is important to know your uric acid levels. Talk to your physician about having your uric acid level tested once every six months. The goal is to reach a serum acid level of less than 6.0 mg/dL; hyperuricemia is at a level above 6.8 mg/dL.
Seeking medical attention and managing gout are important because there is a well-recognized link between elevated uric acid and other serious health issues including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and kidney disease. There is accumulating data that uric acid plays a key role in these conditions.
*(Hyperuricemia is a serum acid level above 6.8 mg/dL.)