Big Toe Pain: Is It Gout?

Benjamin Franklin, famous founding father and famous gout sufferer, often wrote humor pieces on his long-standing suffering from the disease.

In the film 1774, they poke fun at Franklin's disability by having him constantly complaining about his big toe and refusing to walk on it. For most, however, gout is not very funny.

Gout is a painful inflammation of the joints due to a buildup of uric acid. Uric acid, while naturally-occurring in the body and various foods, can be a serious problem if the body makes too much or excretes too little.

Ordinarily, uric acid will be dissolved into the bloodstream, be filtered through the kidneys, and removed in the urine. When a build-up occurs, uric acid will form small, sharp crystals in a joint or surrounding tissue. This can result in pain, swelling and inflammation.

The most commonly affected joint is the joint of the big toe, but can also occur in feet, ankles, knees, wrists and hands. Photos of gout episodes show images of the toe or other joints at sometimes twice their normal size. The pain typically begins suddenly, without any prior indication, and lasts anywhere from five to 10 days. There will be redness, tenderness and swelling. Gradually, the pain and swelling will recede and the joint will appear normal. One may also experience a fever.

Men are more likely to suffer from gout than women. Women, on the whole, generally have lower uric acid levels to begin with until menopause, meaning that women who develop gout typically don't get it until later. Men, however, can develop symptoms earlier (usually between 40 and 50).

Gout can be caused by a number of contributing factors. Excess alcohol consumption is a common factor, as is excessive weight gain. Untreated hypertension, diabetes, and high fat or cholesterol levels can also play a significant role. High-purin foods, such as meat and beans, can aggravate also gout, while fresh fruits and vegetables (in particular, mushrooms, asparagus, cherries and strawberries) are inclined to help. Gout has often, in the past, been referred to as a disease of indulgence, then, given its association with alcohol and steaks.

Gout can be diagnosed by performing urine and blood tests. The urine test can measure how much uric acid is being excreted, and a blood test can measure the level of uric acid in the blood. For sufferers of the gout, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs may provide some relief during a gout attack. For extreme cases, a prescription drug may be administered by a doctor.

Some drugs, designed to keep uric acid at an acceptable level, may be useful in preventing episodes of gout. Cynara Scolymus, for instance, an active ingredient in artichokes, can improve the excretory capacity in the liver and gall bladder, and turmeric contains an active anti-inflammatory agent. These supplements, when combined with a healthy and preventative lifestyle, can help those who suffer from gout to lead a more normal, less painful life.

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