What Happens When Gout is Left Untreated?

by Malaika Hill Health Writer

When gout is not treated properly serious complications can arise, many of which extend beyond joint pain and can affect your overall quality of life. Here’s how the build up of uric acid in your body can affect not only your joints but your kidneys, eyes, heart, and other organs and systems.

Various kidney stones.
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How gout can affect your kidneys

When uric acid builds up, it travels through your blood to your kidneys. If uric acid crystals form in the kidneys, painful kidney stones can develop and create blockages that prevent the kidneys from doing their job of removing waste — leading to infection. Kidney stones caused by uric acid crystals can also scar the kidneys due to their sharp edges. These complications can lead to chronic kidney disease and eventually kidney failure.

Doctor measuring blood pressure.
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How gout can put your heart at risk

The buildup of uric acid crystals induces inflammation in your body that has a domino effect on heart health with its link to high blood pressure. Left unchecked, you can be at increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.

Man with knee pain.
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How repeated gout attacks affect your joints

When gout flares, your white blood cells attack the uric acid crystals that form on the linings of your joints and can get damaged in the process. The chemicals they release cause pain, swelling, and more inflammation. Left untreated, repeated gout attacks can permanently damage your joints and inhibit your mobility.

Gout nodule on ankle.
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How gout can affect your joints inside and out

When untreated gout turns into advanced, chronic gout, uric acid crystals can cause hard nodules called tophi that form under the skin, on the surface of joints, or on cartilage. Typically, tophi develop on the hands, feet, elbows, and along the back of the ankles. Fortunately, they are painless, but when left untreated they can cause joints to deteriorate.

Senior with cataracts.
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How gout can affect your vision

Although eye complications related to gout are uncommon, long-term gout can cause uric acid to build in eye tissue and has been linked to cataracts and dry eye. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in your eye, which is normally clear. When cataracts develop, vision becomes foggy. Dry eye is diagnosed when your eyes stop making enough tears or don’t produce good quality tears, and your eyes become red and irritated.

Senior woman with trouble breathing.
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How gout can affect your lung health

Another rare complication of gout is poor lung function when uric acid crystals build up in the lungs. When this happens, you may have trouble breathing, which can lead to low levels of oxygen in the blood and labored breathing.

Senior man with insomnia.
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How gout can lead to sleep deprivation

Because gout attacks typically happen at night, recurrent attacks can wake you while you are sleeping. This constant awakening also disrupts rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is important for physical and emotional health.Once you are awake, the intense pain that follows can keep you from falling back to sleep, leading to sleep deprivation.

Unhappy woman looking away.
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How gout affects your mood and behavior

The chronic pain associated with repeated gout attacks can lead to low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, and isolation. In turn, depression can then intensify the pain caused by gout, thereby creating a vicious cycle. In fact, people with long-term gout have a high risk of depression.

Senior man getting an MRI.
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How gout can affect your cancer risk

Having a high uric acid level, as gout patients do, can be an early indication for cancers that develop in skin tissues and the linings of internal organs. Studies show that gout is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in men. Liver, lung, and colon cancers have also commonly been detected in people with gout.

Malaika Hill
Meet Our Writer
Malaika Hill

Malaika Hill is a freelance health writer specializing in ophthalmology and population health. For the past decade, she has dedicated her work to helping eye care professionals communicate advances in ophthalmic research to their peers and patients in an effort to provide the highest-quality eye care. She serves on the editorial board of the Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science where she is committed to exploring and communicating short- and long-term strategies to prioritize eye and vision health disparities across the world. Malaika can be found on her website mdwesolutions.com, LinkedIn @malaikadavid, or Twitter @malaika_hill.