If you've suddenly woken up in the middle of the night due to extreme pain in your big toe, perhaps even feeling as though the toe is on fire, you may be experiencing the most common symptom of gout. Gout is an arthritic condition that causes sudden, intense episodes of pain, redness and inflammation of one or more joints. Although the most common joint affected is at the base of the big toe, any joint may produce symptoms of gout such as the hands, feet, wrists, knees and elbows.
As an attack begins, extreme pain and swelling of the joint may peak up to 4 to 12 hours afterwards. Even when the discomfort of an attack subsides, some pain may still be present for days or weeks. Subsequent episodes often prove to last longer and cause more pain than the original one. With each new bout of gout symptoms, your range of motion (ROM) for that area of the body can be restricted.
Gout almost always occurs at night and without warning. Men and post-menopausal women are most prone to experience symptoms of gout. For a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, it is significant that the majority of people have attacks of gout at night, as this indicates the condition is related to yin.
Yin embodies the feminine principles and expresses qualities relating to coolness, darkness and intuition. With a lack of yin, yang factors become more prominent. Yang represents masculine principles of heat, movement and the sun. Nighttime symptoms support the acupuncture and Oriental medicine diagnosis of yin deficiency, as nighttime is considered a quality of yin. Interestingly, virtually all post-menopausal women are diagnosed with yin deficiency as a primary factor contributing to their symptoms of menopause.
If you have a fever accompanying inflammation and pain of a joint, this is considered a medical emergency that needs treatment immediately, as there may be an infection in progress. Untreated gout may result in damage to joints and leave the kidneys vulnerable to kidney stones.
When the body produces too many urate crystals, mainly from eating foods heavy with uric acid, these hard crystals can lodge themselves into one or more joints, producing symptoms of gout. In addition to a rich and greasy diet, there are other risk factors at play like obesity, certain medications (e.g. thiazide diuretics and low-dose aspirin), recent accidents or surgeries, and pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney and heart disease.
Of significance is the fact that the spleen channel traverses the big toe. The spleen channel is an invisible pathway on which Qi, or vital energy, is transported in the body. The spleen directly relates to the digestive system, and the importance of diet cannot be stressed enough in this case.
Therefore, in addition to receiving treatments from your acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner to address the pain and swelling of your conditions, he or she will discuss what food and drink choices can help ease your symptoms. For instance, certain foods and beverages like red meat, seafood, alcohol and sugary drinks should be avoided. Staying well-hydrated is another key, as is monitoring the amount of food you intake.
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.