Crystal arthritis, also known as gout, is extremely painful and comes on fairly suddenly. House Call Doctor explains its diagnosis and causes.
Crystal arthritis, also known as gout, is caused when uric acid, a waste-product found in the bloodstream, builds up in the blood and crystalizes in a joint. Oddly, the most common joint affected by gout is the one at the base of the big toe, although gout can also occur in the knees, ankles, and joints of the arms as well. The key to identifying gout is that it is extremely painful and comes on fairly suddenly. It often looks like an infectious arthritis, but the location and the health of the individual can be clues that gout is the cause, not infection.
So what causes the build up of uric acid that can lead to gout? Some people don’t break down uric acid properly, so they build up levels in their blood. Certain foods, like liver, kidneys, and sardines (nothing you will find me eating) contain a certain chemical that is broken down to uric acid, so eating these foods can raise the levels as well. Finally, some medications and blood conditions can also make the levels go up, predisposing the person to crystal formation in a joint.
Why does it happen mainly in the big toe? I really don’t know, but the fact that it does often makes gout easy to diagnose. If the diagnosis isn’t clear, then fluid from the joint can be removed and analyzed for crystals or signs of infection.
Gout can be treated with medications that reduce inflammation in the joint, and there are also medications to lower the levels of uric acid. Obviously, people with gout should avoid eating sardines and other foods that raise uric acid levels, and they shouldn’t take certain medications. Your doctor can give you more details on this.
Foot image courtesy of Shutterstock.