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What causes swollen, painful toes?

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Quick Answer

Swelling, stiffening and burning pain in the big toe can be symptoms of gout, a type of arthritis affecting joints and surrounding tissue, according to WebMD. Gout reoccurs until treated using a prescription medication, such as corticosteroid shots or other medications, either taken daily or during a gout attack.

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Full Answer

Gout attacks occur in three stages. In the first stage, uric acid levels build in the blood, and some may develop kidney stones, explains WebMD. The second stage is the crystallization of the uric acid in the joints, beginning the gout attack. Most people never experience the third stage, which is the development of a chronic condition of gout, due to the medical advancements in treatment of the early stages of the disease. The joints or external ear develops nodules called tophi, which may cripple the patient by limiting movement at the joint and cause extreme pain.

Gout attacks usually begin at night with a mounting pain in the big toe, states WebMD. Mild gout attacks typically last about one or two days and are often misdiagnosed as tendonitis or sprain of the joint. Severe attacks may last several weeks, with soreness lasting about a month after the attack ends. Within two years, the second attack usually occurs, and the attacks return more often as the condition goes untreated. Those most at risk tend to be overweight, drink heavily or eat foods high in purines, such as meat and fish. Others may develop gout after taking certain medications, such as diuretics, commonly called water pills.

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