To confirm the presence of gout, fluid drawn from the affected joint may be examined under a special polarizing microscope to see if it shows the characteristic crystals.
X-rays are useful in confirming long-term or chronic gout but often not useful in acute cases.
What Are the Treatments for Gout?
Anyone who experiences a gout attack quickly realizes that the first order of business is to ease the pain. Typically, an anti-inflammatory drug is used to control pain and inflammation. Ice applied to the affected joint is also helpful.
The immediate symptoms of gout will usually disappear in a few days or a week. Nonetheless, each instance of suspected gout should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Left untreated, uric acid deposits can eventually cause irreversible damage to the joints, kidneys, and other tissues.
For a gout attack, many doctors recommend oral doses of ibuprofen or naproxen, available in both prescription and nonprescription versions, or other anti-inflammatory drugs. If you are taking aspirin, your doctor may recommend that you stop it temporarily. Aspirin can slow the elimination of uric acid and make gout worse. But if you take a low dose of aspirin to prevent other problems such as a heart attack, check with your doctor before stopping it.
Oral steroid medications or injections in the affected joint may be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation in severe attacks or chronic cases. However, steroids can have undesirable side effects and must always be given by a doctor.
Another treatment for acute gout is colchicine. It can reduce the risk of recurrent attacks and is most effective if taken within the first 12 hours of a gout attack. CAUTION: Colchicine may cause serious adverse side effects, especially if taken in high doses, or may interact with a number of antidepressants, tranquilizers, or antihistamines. And because of the risk of birth defects, pregnant women should not take it.
Once you've had an attack of gout, it's important to take steps toward preventing another attack.
Your doctor will probably advise you to cut out certain protein-rich foods, especially those high in purines, which will break down into uric acid. These foods include red meats, organ meats, anchovies, shellfish, fatty fish, asparagus, spinach, and most dried beans. You should drink plenty of liquids but avoid alcohol, especially beer, which contains high amounts of purines. Obese patients will be advised to lose weight.
After the pain of a gout attack begins to resolve, the next step is to lower the level of uric acid in the blood. The goal of lowering blood uric acid is to slowly dissolve deposits of uric acid in the joint. Lowering the body's level of uric acid can be done through the diet but usually requires drugs.