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Gout is a metabolic disease characterized by hyperuricemia and the deposition of monosodium urate (MSU) crystals in the joints and soft tissues, consisting of a self-limited acute phase characterized by recurrent attacks of synovitis and a chronic phase in which inflammatory and structural changes of the joints and periarticular tissues may lead to persistent symptoms. Acute gout is characterized by a sudden monoarthritis of rapid onset, with intense pain, mostly affecting the big toe (50% of initial attacks), the foot, ankle, midtarsal, knee, wrist, finger, and elbow. Acute flares also occur in periarticular structures, including bursae and tendons. The presence of characteristic MSU crystals in the joint fluid, appearing needle-like and showing strong negative birefringence by polarized microscopy, is pivotal to confirm the diagnosis of gout. The time interval separating the first attack from subsequent episodes of acute synovitis may be widely variable, ranging from a few days to several years. During the period between acute attacks the patient is asymptomatic even if MSU deposition may continue to increase silently. The factors that control the rate, location, and degree of ongoing deposition in gouty patients are not well defined. Chronic gout is the natural evolution of untreated hyperuricemia in patients with gouty attacks followed by pain-free intercritical periods. It is characterized by the deposition of solid MSU crystal aggregates in a variety of tissues including joints, bursae and tendons. Tophi can occur in a variety of locations including the helix of the ear, olecranon bursa, and over the interphalangeal joints. Their development is usually related with both the degree and the duration of hyperuricemia. About 20% of patients with gout have urinary tract stones and can develop an interstitial urate nephropathy. There is a strong association between hyperuricaemia and the metabolic syndrome (the constellation of insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity and dyslipidaemia), and gouty patients often have a medical history of kidney disease, diabetes mellitus and signs of vascular illness such as coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke, resulting with a poor overall quality of life.
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