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How Long Does a Gout Attack Last?

written by: Robin Hawkins • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 4/1/2011

Gout, sometimes referred to as “gouty arthritis,” is a type of arthritis that commonly strikes the big toe, ankle and other joints in the body. Characterized by extreme pain and swelling, gout sufferers want to know ‘how long does a gout attack last?’ and how they can prevent future attacks.

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    What is Gout?

    Gout is an arthritis condition resulting from extremely high levels of uric acid in the body. These elevated levels of uric acid form hard crystals around the joints. Symptoms characterizing a gout attack include the sudden and often rapid onset of burning, swelling, pain, stiffness and limited movement in the big toe. The entire foot, ankle and knees can also be affected.

    The onset of a gout attack usually occurs at night. The pain associated with gout can come on so suddenly and become progressively worse so that even the lightest pressure, like that of a bed sheet, can be intolerable. Let's discuss the answer to the question, "How long does a gout attack last?

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    Risk Factors for Gout

    Gout occurs in more men than women. Men who tend to be overweight, consume too much alcohol (especially beer), eat a lot of red meat and seafood, or have family members who have experienced attacks of gout are more likely to develop an episode of gout in their lifetime.

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    How Long Does a Gout Attack Last?

    By the time a gout attack occurs, the uric acid levels in the body have likely been building up for a number of years and uric acid crystals have already been forming on one or more joints of the body. A mild attack of gout can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Sometimes mild gouty attacks are misdiagnosed as pain from overuse or a sprain.

    More severe cases of gout may last for several weeks. People who suffer from attacks of gout generally have recurring attacks within a six-month to two-year time frame. If gout is left untreated, the frequency at which attacks of gout occur will increase over time.

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    Treatment for Gout

    The treatment for gout is first and foremost geared towards the quick relief of pain, and then the focus becomes to eliminate the cause and prevent future attacks of gout.

    A doctor may treat the initial symptoms of gout with a shot of a corticosteroid and an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, naproxen or indomethacin to reduce inflammation and manage pain. A gout sufferer will usually notice some relief of symptoms within 24 hours of treatment; however, it still may take several days of rest and treatment for the full effects of the gout attack to subside.

    As symptoms decrease in intensity, the skin around the toe may feel itchy and peel.

    Once symptoms are under control, medication can be taken to help prevent future attacks. Allopurinol is a commonly prescribed medication for gout as it acts to decrease the production of uric acid in the blood.

    Some lifestyle modifications that can help to prevent future attacks of gout include:

    • Controlling weight
    • Exercise
    • Limiting alcohol, especially beer
    • Limit intake of red meat and seafood