Literally translated, arthritis means "joint inflammation." It refers to more than 100 different diseases that affect the joints. Gout accounts for approximately 5 percent of all cases of arthritis. The disease can progress through four stages:
- Asymptomatic (without symptoms) hyperuricemia - In this stage, a person has elevated levels of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia), but no other symptoms. Treatment is usually not required.
- Acute gout, or acute gouty arthritis - In this stage, hyperuricemia has caused the deposit of uric acid crystals in joint spaces. This leads to a sudden onset of intense pain and swelling in the joints, which also may be warm and very tender. An acute attack commonly occurs at night and can be triggered by stressful events, alcohol or drugs, or the presence of another illness. Attacks usually subside within 3 to 10 days, even without treatment, and the next attack may not occur for months or even years. Over time, however, attacks can last longer and occur more frequently.
- Interval or intercritical gout - This is the period between acute attacks. In this stage, a person does not have any symptoms.
- Chronic tophaceous gout - This is the most disabling stage of gout. It usually develops over a long period, such as 10 years. In this stage, the disease may have caused permanent damage to the affected joints and sometimes to the kidneys. With proper treatment, most people with gout do not progress to this advanced stage.