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What Causes Uric Acid Crystals?

Gout, a specific type of arthritis, primarily occurs when minuscule uric acid crystals accumulate inside and around the joints, typically starting in the big toe. This condition is triggered by an excessive buildup of uric acid in the blood, leading to crystal formation in the joints. Gout is known for causing episodes of pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joints. Predominantly affecting men over the age of 30, it can also impact women post-menopause. In the UK, it's estimated that gout affects between one and two in every 100 people. This condition can be extremely painful and, in some instances, debilitating. This article will discuss any rising concerns that you may have about gout and prevention methods.

Understanding The Signs and Symptoms of Gout 

While the formation of crystals can start anywhere in your body, including the kidneys, the condition typically affects the joints towards the extremities of the limbs. For example, the toes, ankles, knees, and fingers.

When you have gout, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Joints that feel warm, hot, and/or very tender.

  • Moderate to severe pain in a single joint or multiple ones.

  • Red and gleaming skin over the troubled joint.

  • Swelling in and/or around the joint.

  • Difficulty moving the affected joint.

  • Depending on the joint affected, difficulty moving around in general and standing. 

The above symptoms of gout may develop rapidly over the course of a few hours and usually last anywhere between three and ten days.  If the pain, swelling, and discomfort do not pass after this time and you don’t see your joint(s) returning to normal, then you may want to consult a doctor for advice.

The buildup of uric acid in the blood can cause uric acid to enter the bladder, causing discomfort and inflammation, which is a form of cystitis. Additionally, excess uric acid can cause kidney stones, which can lead to urine not draining properly, leading to infected cystitis. An excess of uric acid in the blood can cause both gout and cystitis.  It is worth reading up on how to control and prevent cystitis.

Furthermore, a high amount of uric acid crystals in the urine may cause urinary incontinence.

The condition itself may not necessarily be caused by high uric acid levels in the blood, but it is often something as simple as not taking proper care of your skin. The importance of skincare and incontinence, in fact, go hand in hand. 

On a related note, if you’ve experienced any episodes of incontinence or are currently trying to manage the condition, then continence products can help. 


How Gout Affects Different Joints

Gout can impact any joint in the body; this can be in one joint or multiple joints at the same time. 

Joints towards the ends of your limbs are more commonly affected. So, these would be:

  • Midfoot – right where you tighten your shoelaces.

  • Toes – although the big toe gets affected more than the others.

  • Knees and ankles.

  • Elbows and wrists.

  • Fingers.

High levels of uric acid can cause problems anywhere in the body and should never be taken lightly. If you’re experiencing any of the signs and symptoms described above, then you should consult a health practitioner for advice and treatment.

If left untreated, gout can affect more joints with the passage of time, where the pain may get more severe, and could even lead to immobility. 

How Gout Symptoms Manifest

Gout attacks typically occur at night, although they can also occur any time during the day. The symptoms can develop very quickly, often within a matter of hours.

While symptoms may last between three and ten days, the affected joint will start returning to normal afterward, but that’s usually when treatment is started early. 

Gout symptoms may recur months or years after you have treated them. 

Unfortunately, it’s not very easy to predict how often gout attacks might occur or when exactly they will occur. 

When To Seek Medical Advice and Recurrence 

Gout can often strike without warning. Unlike other medical conditions, you may not notice any signs or symptoms, although this can vary from person to person. 

However, if you ever experience intense pain in your big toe that’s immediately followed by redness, tenderness, warmth, or discolouration in the affected joint, do not hesitate to seek medical advice. 

If it does turn out to be gout and you don’t treat it on time, you may experience joint damage over the next few years, which may even include arthritis and bone erosion. 

If you suspect that you have gout, see your GP immediately, especially if you’ve never been diagnosed with gout before. Diagnosis is important, as the symptoms of gout can be very similar to those of other conditions that require urgent treatment, such as an infection in the joint. It is important to contact your GP without delay or call 111 if you experience the following:

  • Severe pain and swelling in the joint(s), which continues to get worse.

  • A fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or above.

If you’ve already received a diagnosis of gout in the past and you have another attack, contact your GP, especially if any medication prescribed doesn’t show signs of improvement in a few days.

Recurring symptoms of gout are common and typically occur within a year or less after you’ve experienced the first episode. 

What Causes Gout Crystals To Form? 

Gout develops in the body due to excessively high levels of uric acid in the blood, a condition referred to as hyperuricemia. This excessive buildup of uric acid can cause crystals to form in joints, causing pain and swelling. This is the main risk factor that leads to gout. However, at least a quarter of people do not experience gout despite having hyperuricemia.

Purines are compounds that the body produces naturally and are also found in food. When your body breaks these down, uric acid is formed. The kidneys remove most of the uric acid from the blood, and it is expelled from the body via the urine. Unfortunately, if the level of uric acid in the blood is very high, not all of it can be removed, and this is when uric acid builds up in the blood, allowing crystals to develop. 

Hereditary conditions, or genetics, also play a role in developing gout. It is estimated that around 20% of people with gout have a close relative who has already experienced an episode. 

In addition, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has identified specific factors that can increase the chances of developing gout:

  • Being overweight, and especially obese, can lead to a higher likelihood of developing gout.

  • Certain medications, such as low-dose aspirin, anti-cholesterol medication (niacin), chemotherapy drugs, high blood pressure medicines (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers), fluid buildup, and diuretics, can cause gout. 

  • Specific foods and drinks can also cause gout. For example, beer, fortified wines like port and spirits, red meat, seafood, offal, high-fructose drinks, and sugar-sweetened drinks, including energy drinks, can all lead to an increased risk of gout. The only exception here is wine; one to two glasses a day has less impact. 

What Is The Fastest Way To Get Rid Of Uric Acid Crystals? Gout Treatments

The Arthritis Foundation recommends contacting a doctor if you notice a flare of gout. While waiting for your appointment, you can try the following to alleviate symptoms of uric acid crystals in your joint:

  • Medication – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen or Diclofenac, can ease the pain and inflammation in any joints affected by gout. 

  • Fluids – Increase your fluid intake but avoid sugary drinks and alcoholic beverages. Aim for at least eight to ten cups a day, where half or more of the intake should be from water.

  • Elevate and ice – Elevate the affected area, ideally so it is at a level higher than your heart and apply an ice pack to it for 20 minutes or more, up to three to four times a day. This can ease both the pain and the inflammation. It is important not to apply the ice directly to your skin, as this can cause skin damage.

Potential Complications of Untreated Gout

Complications can arise if gout is left untreated or if treatment is sought too late. These can include the following:

  • Kidney stones and kidney failure – Urate crystals may form in the kidneys, which can cause them to block the urinary tract, causing incontinence and other urinary issues. If too many urate crystals start forming in the kidneys and urinary tract, it can lead to the formation of kidney stones and, eventually, kidney failure. 

  • Joint damage – Without treatment, gout attacks can occur frequently, leading to permanent joint damage. 

  • Tophi – While painless, tophi (crystalline uric acid) may appear in strange places, discharging white chalky material around the toes. 

Prevent The Build-Up of Gout Crystals

While gout can be a debilitating condition, it can be prevented by avoiding specific kinds of food and drink, maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, and more. 

You now understand a great deal about how to break up gout crystals and more! If you experience any of the symptoms described above, don’t hesitate to contact a doctor! 

FAQs

How do you reduce your uric acid level?

Uric acid can be reduced by taking medications like Allopurinol (which lowers uric acid levels), making dietary changes to avoid high-purine foods, and increasing hydration.


How do you flush uric acid from your body?

Flushing uric acid involves staying well-hydrated, limiting intake of alcohol and sugary drinks, consuming a low-purine diet, and potentially using medications prescribed by a healthcare professional.


What are the symptoms of uric acid crystals?

Symptoms include severe joint pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness, often starting in the big toe, and can also lead to kidney stones.


How much water should I drink to flush out uric acid in the bladder?

Generally, it is recommended to drink at least eight to ten glasses of water per day, although individual needs may vary.

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