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Gout crystals are deposits of monosodium urate that form inside the joints, causing an inflammatory condition known as gout. Gout has been a historic problem in many societies and it continues to be a common joint condition today. The crystals cannot be removed, but there are techniques for managing gout including making dietary adjustments designed to reduce the deposition of the crystals.
People develop gout as a consequence of having high levels of uric acid in the blood. Once called “the disease of kings” because it was believed to be caused by eating a rich diet, gout has since been attributed to a number of other causes, including genetics and other metabolic conditions that lead to rises in uric acid levels. At a certain point, the acid will start to precipitate out of the blood in the form of monosodium urate crystals and these crystals typically deposit in the joints, causing joint pain and inflammation. Sometimes they also appear in the kidneys, leading to kidney stones, and form lumps under the skin known as tophi.
Gout crystals are narrow and sharp. They present a very distinctive appearance under the microscope, making it easy to diagnose patients with gout by using a sample of fluid from the joint. Inside the joint, the crystals grind against the structures in the joint, causing inflammation and subsequent pain. The big toe is a common site for gout crystals, although they can develop in other areas as well, depending on the patient and the case.
Patients with gout crystals in their joints usually notice swelling and hotness in the joint. The skin above may be reddish, indicating inflammation, and the joint can be extremely painful. It is usually stiff, making it difficult to move, and can feel frozen. Immediate treatments can include warm compresses for the joint, anti-inflammatory medications, and rest to take weight off the joint, allowing the patient an opportunity to recover.
Making changes to the diet can lower uric acid levels. Sometimes medications may be recommended if the underlying cause is metabolic. Gentle physical therapy can help patients condition their joints and facilitate recovery. Gout is often resistant to treatment and each patient responds differently. If one treatment does not work, it may be worth exploring other treatment options to see if they are more effective or more helpful for the patient. Patients interested in exploring alternative treatments for gout crystals should discuss them with a doctor to see if there are any contraindications or concerns.