Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Do I Have Gout in the Big Toe Joint
Gout is one of the most painful conditions I see as a Podiatrist in San Francisco. Usually gout attacks the big toe joint. The question is, how do you tell if you are having an attack of gout in the foot?
When gout happens the first thing you will notice is pain, swelling and redness around the joint. In the foot this is most often the base of the big toe in the joint podiatrists call the "metatarsaophalangeal joint." Gout can happen in any of the joints in the foot, but usually it the big toe joint.
When gout develops, you get uric acid crystals forming and being deposited in the joint itself. If untreated, the crystals may continue to form and lead to the buildup of a chalky paste-like substance called tophi. You can see the huge lump on the bottom of the big toe joint in the picture above. All of that is uric acid crystals in the joint.
Because these sharp needle-shaped crystals end up in the joint, it can be incredibly painful to move the joint. Every time you move the big toe, it is like having a thousand little needles poking the inside of the joint. This of course hurts.
In response, your body reacts with inflammation. That is where the classic pain swelling and redness comes in. The foot will be warm to the touch, red and very painful. Many gout sufferers will say they can't even have a bed sheet touching the foot because it is so painful.
The biggest problem with trying to tell if you actually have gout is that gout mimics two other conditions: infectious arthritis and Charcot. Charcot arthropathy is an emergency that can look like gout, but is actually more serious. It is most common in people with diabetes. Infectious arthritis is where bacteria (instead of uric acid) is invading the joint. Both of these are emergencies. With either, it is important to start treatment right away to prevent further damage and the potential for losing the foot to an amputation.
Many people who have had multiple attacks of gout can seem to tell when it is coming on. However, if you have never been diagnosed with gout, it is important to see a foot specialists who can make sure you don't have a more serious condition.
The most accurate way for your podiatrist to diagnose gout is through a small procedure called joint aspiration. In this way, the uric acid crystals in the joint can easily be identified. More importantly, your foot doctor can rule out a bacterial infection. Blood tests and x-rays may give clues that you have had gout, but can be unreliable if used alone to diagnose gout.
Once you have been diagnosed with gout, your podiatrist will likely make recommendations on modifying your diet to prevent it from happening again. You can view our recommendations on a Gout Diet here. If you are given a prescription to treat the gout, you will be given written instructions that you should follow closely.
Dr. Christopher Segler was selected in 2010 as one of "America's Top Podiatrists." He has a podiatry house calls practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more about gout, visit the Gout page on our website. If you have gout and need pain relief right away, he makes podiatry emergency house calls 24/7. If you think you might have gout and would like to speak directly with him to ask a question, you can call him (415) 308 0833.