Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that’s caused by the accumulation of excess uric acid crystals in a joint, most usually a big toe joint.
You’re more likely to have attacks of gout if you consume a diet that’s high in sugars or that contains excessive amounts of purines. Purines are substances found in all foods, but especially red meats, shellfish, organs, and alcohol.
No matter why or how you’ve developed gout, you’re more likely to have a painful attack in the middle of the night. In fact, the risk of a gout attack is 2.4 times higher at night than in the morning or day.
Kimberly Bolling, MD, a knowledgeable and caring clinician in Bowie, Maryland, specializes in diagnosing and treating gout. She may recommend diet and lifestyle changes as well as medications to reduce your risk and the severity of gout flares.
If a gout attack awakens you in the middle of the night, bringing stabbing or throbbing pain, here’s what you can do.
Take a painkiller
Pain disrupts your sleep. The first thing you want to do when gout awakens you or strikes at night is to calm the pain so you can get the rest you need to function properly and safely the next day.
Simple over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the best choice. They subdue pain plus reduce the inflammation. Try ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin® or Advil®) or naproxen (e.g., Aleve®).
Never use aspirin during a gout attack: It can worsen the severity of the attack. Aspirin also increases uric acid levels, which may create more painful crystals. Ask Dr. Bolling if corticosteroids you take for gout are OK at night. Some steroids may disrupt your sleep.
Add in your medication
If your doctor has prescribed medication to lower your uric acid levels, you can take that during an attack, too. Uric acid levels tend to increase at night due to:
- Changes in breathing that lower oxygen
- Lower body temperatures in your extremities
- Untreated sleep apnea
If gout awakens you at night, Dr. Bolling may recommend a sleep study. If you have sleep apnea, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine can keep your blood-oxygen levels high, reducing your risk of a gout attack.
Ice your joint
Alleviate pain and decrease swelling immediately by applying an ice pack to your throbbing joint. Wrap an ice pack, bag of ice, or bag of frozen peas in a washcloth or towel to protect your skin from freezing temperatures.
You can ice your joint for 20-30 minutes at a time. Continue the ice therapy once you awake, too.
Raise your foot
If your foot or big toe is affected by the gout attack, try to prop up your foot on a pillow or rolled-up blanket. Elevating your foot can ease swelling, which may reduce the pain, too.
Drink lots of water
You want to be sure to flush out as much excess uric acid from your body as possible. During the day, be sure to stay hydrated with water and other healthy, hydrating liquids.
If you have a gout attack at night, drinking water may help your body flush out uric acid then, too. Remember to “water" yourself throughout the day, just as you would be sure to keep your plants hydrated, too.
There’s even an app called Plant Nanny that helps you remember to drink enough (and keep your houseplants healthy as a bonus!).
Prevent gout in the daytime
Of course, the best way to deal with a nighttime gout attack is to prevent it from happening. Steps to take include:
- Adopting a low-purine diet
- Cutting out sugars and corn syrup
- Quitting alcohol
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Taking your gout medications
If you suffer from gout and need help with pain or prevention, contact us today by calling 301-352-0090. You may also request an appointment online.