Do one or both of your big toes feel super sore and stiff? Does the pain seem to get worse in the evening? While it's certainly possible that you just stubbed your toe, if this pain has been going on for a while, it's important to consider another possibility: gout. Gout is most common in adult men who are approaching retirement age, but women and younger people can develop it, too. Nobody is completely without risk. Here's what you need to know about gout.

What is gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis, which is medically defined as inflammation of the joints. It's caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joint tissues. Everyone's body produces uric acid, but, if your body stops eliminating it properly, you can end up with gout. The symptoms usually appear quite suddenly. Although you're at a higher risk of gout if your parents had it, you can still develop it with no prior family history of the condition.

What are the symptoms of gout?

The sore, swollen big toes you're experiencing are usually the first sign of gout. As time goes on, the soreness tends to get worse—to the point that you can barely bend your toes. They might also feel hot to the touch. Eventually, the symptoms begin to move their way up your legs, affecting your ankles and knees, too. Some patients also develop gout symptoms in their fingers, thumbs, wrists, and elbows. Your symptoms may come and go, bothering you for a few weeks and then fading away for a while before coming back with a vengeance.

How do you treat gout?

If you think you may have gout, you should see a physician or a podiatrist to confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor will work with you to devise an effective treatment plan. This will involve following a specialized diet that minimizes your body's production of uric acid. You'll be asked to avoid red meat, alcohol, seafood, and perhaps some other foods. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to ease your pain, and you'll be told to elevate your leg when your big toe – or any other joint in that area – begins to ache.

With the proper treatment, your gout symptoms should subside. However, you'll need to follow a specialized diet and perhaps take certain steroid medications to prevent future flare-ups. Contact a doctor  like Harvey Harold E II MD PLLC at the first sign of a new flare-up so they can tailor your treatment plan to your unique needs.