Tests to help diagnose gout may include:
- Joint fluid test. Your doctor may use a needle to draw fluid from your affected joint. When examined under the microscope, your joint fluid may reveal urate crystals.
- Blood test. Your doctor may recommend a blood test to measure the levels of uric acid and creatinine in your blood.
- Blood test results can be misleading, though. Some people have high uric acid levels, but never experience gout. And some people have signs and symptoms of gout, but don't have unusual levels of uric acid in their blood.
- X-ray imaging. Joint X-rays can be helpful to rule out other causes of joint inflammation.
- Ultrasound. Musculoskeletal ultrasound can detect urate crystals in a joint or in a tophus. This technique is more widely used in Europe than in the United States.
- Dual energy CT scan. This type of imaging can detect the presence of urate crystals in a joint, even when it is not acutely inflamed. This test is not used routinely in clinical practice due to the expense and is not widely available.
Treatment for gout usually involves medications. What medications you and your doctor choose will be based on your current health and your own preferences.
Gout medications can be used to treat acute attacks and prevent future attacks as well as reduce your risk of complications from gout, such as the development of tophi from urate crystal deposits.
Medications to treat gout attacks
Drugs used to treat acute attacks and prevent future attacks include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include over-the-counter options such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), as well as more-powerful prescription NSAIDs such as indomethacin (Indocin) or celecoxib (Celebrex).
Your doctor may prescribe a higher dose to stop an acute attack, followed by a lower daily dose to prevent future attacks.
NSAIDs carry risks of stomach pain, bleeding and ulcers.
Colchicine. Your doctor may recommend colchicine (Colcrys, Mitigare), a type of pain reliever that effectively reduces gout pain. The drug's effectiveness is offset in most cases, however, by intolerable side effects, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
After an acute gout attack resolves, your doctor may prescribe a low daily dose of colchicine to prevent future attacks.
Corticosteroids. Corticosteroid medications, such as the drug prednisone, may control gout inflammation and pain. Corticosteroids may be administered in pill form, or they can be injected into your joint.
Corticosteroids are generally reserved for people who can't take either NSAIDs or colchicine. Side effects of corticosteroids may include mood changes, increased blood sugar levels and elevated blood pressure.
Medications to prevent gout complications
If you experience several gout attacks each year or if your gout attacks are less frequent but particularly painful, your doctor may recommend medication to reduce your risk of gout-related complications.
Medications that block uric acid production. Drugs called xanthine oxidase inhibitors, including allopurinol (Aloprim, Lopurin, Zyloprim) and febuxostat (Uloric), limit the amount of uric acid your body makes. This may lower your blood's uric acid level and reduce your risk of gout.
Side effects of allopurinol include a rash and low blood counts. Febuxostat side effects include rash, nausea and reduced liver function.
- Medication that improves uric acid removal. Probenecid (Probalan) improves your kidneys' ability to remove uric acid from your body. This may lower your uric acid levels and reduce your risk of gout, but the level of uric acid in your urine is increased. Side effects include a rash, stomach pain and kidney stones.