Could That Ache In Your Big Toe Be Gout?
Gout is a complex form of arthritis most common in men, though post-menopausal women are also susceptible. We explain the symptoms and provide tips to reduce your risk.
You wake in the night with the sensation that your big toe is on fire. The joint at the base of your toe is so swollen and tender that even the weight of the sheet feels too painful to endure.
You may be experiencing an attack of gout: sudden severe pain, redness and tenderness, often located in the joint at the base of the big toe. Gout is caused by the accumulation of urate crystals in a joint. Urate crystals form when your body produces too much uric acid or when your kidneys excrete too little uric acid. When uric acid builds up in the blood, needle-like urate crystals form in a joint or surrounding tissue, causing pain, inflammation, and swelling.
This complicated form of arthritis can affect anyone, though it is most common among men. The symptoms of gout are intense and almost always occur suddenly, without warning.
- Acute joint pain. Although gout often affects the large joint at the base of the big toe, it can also affect other joints in feet, ankles, knees, hands, and wrists. The pain is most severe in the 12 to 24 hours following the onset of the attack.
- Lingering discomfort. Usually, the sudden pain of an attack subsides within a day, but joint discomfort may linger for as long as several weeks.
- Inflammation. The affected joint is swollen, tender, and red.
A number of factors contribute to high levels of uric acid in the body, including the following:
- Excessive alcohol consumption. Men who have more than two drinks a day, and women consuming more than one drink a day increase their risk of gout.
- Medical conditions. Untreated high blood pressure, as well as diabetes, high levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood, and arteriosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) can contribute to developing gout.
- Medications. People taking low-dose aspirin, or thiazide diuretics to treat hypertension, are at higher risk for an increased uric acid level.
- Family history. If gout runs in your family, you are more likely to develop the condition.
- Age and sex. Gout occurs more often in men between the ages of 40 and 50, because they have higher levels of uric acid than women. However, after menopause, women’s uric acid levels—and risk of gout—rises.
If you experience the symptoms of gout, consult your physician. Gout can be treated with medications and dietary changes. Without treatment, gout can lead to recurrent gout attacks, risk of joint damage, and kidney stones.
Summit Orthopedics offers personalized foot and ankle expertise
Our fellowship-trained foot and ankle physicians understand that your mobility depends on the health of your feet and ankles. If you have suffered an injury or are experiencing symptoms that make walking painful, our team of foot and ankle specialists can help with conservative treatment, seasoned surgical teams, and expert rehabilitation support. Summit Orthopedics specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely get you back on your feet and on your way.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
More resources for you
Summit Orthopedics foot and ankle surgeon Samuel Russ, M.D., discusses the options available to help broken toes heal.
Summit hand and upper extremity surgeon J.P. Delaney, M.D., explains the painful condition called “frozen shoulder” and shares what sufferers can do about it.