Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood. The acid can form needle-like crystals in a joint and cause sudden, severe episodes of pain, tenderness, redness, warmth and swelling.
There are several stages of gout:
- Asymptomatic hyperuricemia is the period prior to the first gout attack. There are no symptoms, but blood uric acid levels are high and crystals are forming in the joint.
- Acute gout, or a gout attack, happens when something (such as a night of drinking) causes uric acid levels to spike or jostles the crystals that have formed in a joint, triggering the attack. The resulting inflammation and pain usually strike at night and intensify over the next eight to 12 hours. The symptoms ease after a few days and likely go away in a week to 10 days. Some people never experience a second attack, but an estimated 60% of people who have a gout attack will have a second one within a year. Overall, 84% may have another attack within three years.
- Interval gout is the time between attacks. Although there’s no pain, the gout isn’t gone. Low-level inflammation may be damaging joints. This is the time to begin managing gout – via lifestyle changes and medication – to prevent future attacks or chronic gout.
- Chronic gout develops in people with gout whose uric acid levels remain high over a number of years. Attacks become more frequent and the pain may not go away as it used to. Joint damage may occur, which can lead to a loss of mobility. With proper management and treatment, this stage is preventable.