What is the Difference Between Gout and Arthritis?

It can be confusing to tell the difference between gout and arthritis. Especially if you aren’t a medical professional. Both conditions cause pain, swelling, and tenderness in the joints. Both are very common among the elderly. It is even possible to have both conditions at the same time! In fact, roughly 2% of arthritis sufferers will experience gout at some point.

Trained medical professionals can treat either condition, but correctly identifying and diagnosing them is key to ensuring proper care. There is one very subtle difference between gout and arthritis. Here’s a hint: it has everything to do with their relationship!

Answer: Gout is Actually a Type of Arthritis

Arthritis is a big family of related conditions usually associated with joint pain. Over 50 million adults and 300,000 children are affected by arthritis. With those numbers, it’s no wonder that it’s the leading cause of American disability! Common symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Sufferers can also experience limited or reduced range of motion. In extreme cases, arthritis can cause chronic pain that disrupts a person’s ability to participate in everyday life. Sometimes, arthritis can cause visible changes to joints, forming things like knobby or gnarled fingers.

Even if not visible from the outside, arthritic damage in joints can always be spotted by X-ray. Some arthritis can affect other areas of the body besides the joints, such as the heart, lungs, and skin. The exact cause of arthritis is unknown. But we know that arthritic swelling and pain are caused by inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Changes in the body’s proteins activate an immune system response that releases cytokines.

Gout is just one of many types of arthritis. Unlike the larger arthritis family at large, we know exactly how gout happens. Gout is caused by an excess of uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a naturally-occurring waste product made by digesting certain foods. Typically, uric acid is expelled from the body by being filtered through the kidneys and expelled in the form of urine.

Sometimes, too much uric acid can build up in the body. This excess causes acid crystals to form in the body’s joints. The immune system thinks these crystals are foreign invaders and it goes on the attack. (The body reacts the same way to foreign objects like splinters.) Inflammatory chemicals released during this immune response cause the swelling, tenderness, and redness associated with gout. Gout most commonly happens in the joints of the foot’s big toes, but it can occur in any joint.

Additional Resources

This was a quick overview and obviously there is more to cover on these topics. The Web has a huge collection of resources that anyone can use when looking for arthritis and gout information. Here are some of the best:

  1. Mayo Clinic - Widely considered a reliable and informative source on a huge range of medical topics. The linked article provides a detailed overview of gout, as well as information on symptoms and causes.
  2. Arthritis.org - A database of information on arthritis. This is an excellent resource for all things arthritis. This linked article focuses on defining different kinds of arthritis. It also offers helpful links for dealing with an arthritis diagnosis.
  3. CreakyJoints - An advocacy and education organization centered around arthritis and its related conditions (including gout, of course). It’s a leader on educating and informing people about arthritis and its treatment options. It also offers a helpful network of knowledgeable sufferers, physicians, and resource professionals. This link talks about the cases where people suffer from both gout and a form of arthritis. 

Questions to Consider