Gout is a painful inflammation of a joint. The big toe is the joint most commonly affected, although the hands, wrists, knees, ankles, elbows or any other joint can be affected.
Gout is the result of a build of waste material called uric acid, which forms tiny crystals in some of the joints of the body. Uric acid is normally found in the blood of all people, and comes from the breakdown of cells, DNA and from the food and drinks we consume each day.
Uric acid is mostly excreted by the kidneys. Too much uric acid builds up in the blood either because it is not excreted quickly enough or because too much is being produced. This excess can end up in the joints as crystals (called ‘urate’). These crystals can cause sudden and severe inflammation of the joint.
Gout is uncommon in women before the onset of menopause. It is more common in men than in women, and in older people than in younger people, but can affect anyone.
Apart from sex and age, gout is most common in people who:
- are taking medications that increase water excretion by the kidneys (diuretics)
- are overweight
- have kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or abnormal levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood
- eat plenty of foods containing the chemicals from which uric acid is created such as meats (especially beef, pork, lamb, liver); seafood (especially anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines, fish roe, mussels and scallops); vegetables (such as asparagus, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils and spinach); or foods or supplements that contain yeast extract (such as beer and Vegemite)
- drink alcohol, especially beer or spirits, as these contain high levels of purines, a chemical that is broken down into uric acid
- drink sugar-sweetened soft drinks and drinks with high levels of fructose
- are of Maori and Pacific Islander origin, as they tend to have high uric acid levels which predispose them to gout.
Prompt treatment will help relieve the pain and inflammation of acute gout.
Frequently, attacks of gout can cause irreversible damage to the joint and the nearby bone. This is one of the main reasons people suffering gout should seek medical help.
Last reviewed: August 2015