That intense, searing pain in your big toe isn’t something to be ignored.

Unless you’ve recently injured yourself in some sort of accident (like catching your toe on your bed corner during a midnight trip to the bathroom – @%#*!), this sudden pain and swelling could be a sign of gout—a serious condition that often comes on without warning.

Gout can affect much more than just your big toe. Joints in the ankles, wrists, fingers, and elbows are also susceptible. No matter where the location, gout is caused by one thing: excess uric acid. This waste product naturally forms from the breakdown of tissues. Normally the kidneys excrete the waste and everything goes on as normal.

However, if the body is producing extra uric acid or is having trouble eliminating it, the extra acid builds up in the body. It forms painful crystals and accumulates in the joints.  Yeah, ouch!

In order to avoid an agonizing bout with gout, it’s important to recognize the risk factors.

Family History – Research shows that anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of gout cases can be linked to genetics.

Obesity – The extra body tissue carried in an overweight or obese person leads to an increase in uric acid.

Gender and Age – Because estrogen helps with the excretion of uric acid, women are usually not affected by gout until after they have experienced menopause. Men commonly see the onset of gout between the ages of 40 and 50. Cases of gout in children are extremely rare.

Dietary Intake – Certain foods and beverages have been linked to an increased rate of gout. Excessive alcohol, asparagus, dried beans, excessive fructose, mushrooms, red meats, and scallops are just a few examples.

Medications – Many medications interfere with the processing or elimination of uric acid from the body. Some examples include diuretics, niacin, aspirin, and levodopa.

Other Medical Conditions – Since uric acid is normally eliminated in the kidneys, any condition that impairs kidney function is likely to lead to gout. Other common medical conditions that may increase the likelihood of gout are psoriasis, some cancers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and underactive thyroid.

Thankfully, treatments for both acute and long-term gout are quite successful. Physical activity, medication, and diet may also be successful at preventing gout attacks. If you believe you’re suffering from gout, be sure to speak with your doctor about possible solutions.

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