Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that generally begins in a person’s big toe. It can spread to other joints, such as the ankle or knee. In rare cases, gout may affect a person’s shoulder.

Gout can cause a person to experience flares of pain and swelling in their joints. The condition often affects joints in the lower legs. However, in rare cases, it can affect the hips and shoulders.

Research from 2019 found that 9.2 million people in the United States had gout between 2015 and 2016. The Arthritis Foundation notes that males are 3 times more likely to develop gout than females.

Read on to learn more about gout in the shoulders, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and when to speak with a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) notes that the most common symptom of gout is pain in the affected joint.

If a person has gout in their shoulder, they may experience flares of pain in the area. A person may experience symptoms during the night that cause them to wake up.

Gout flares can occur suddenly and last for days or weeks at a time. It usually only affects one joint at a time. A person who has gout in their shoulder may also notice that the area is:

A case study from 2021 noted that signs of gout in a person’s shoulder could include:

  • limited mobility in the shoulder
  • weakness in the shoulder
  • destruction of bone in the shoulder joint

Symptoms may occur due to triggers, including:

  • certain foods
  • physical trauma
  • alcohol
  • certain medications
  • certain health conditions

Some people may have flares of gout symptoms frequently. Other people may only experience symptoms every few years.

However, without treatment, a person may experience gout symptoms more frequently and for longer periods of time. Treatment can also help prevent a person from developing tophi, which are hard deposits of urate crystals. Tophi are generally not painful, but they can interfere with movement or become inflamed.

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Gout occurs due to a buildup of urate in a person’s blood, which doctors call hyperuricemia.

Urate forms when the body breaks down purines, which are a natural substance found in certain foods and beverages, including:

  • red meat
  • organ meat, such as liver
  • seafood
  • alcohol

High levels of urate can cause needle-like crystals to form in and around a person’s joint. This can cause inflammation in the area.

However, not everyone who has hyperuricemia will develop gout. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that a person who has hyperuricemia without gout symptoms does not require treatment.

There are certain factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing gout, such as:

A person should speak with a doctor about their individual risk of developing gout.

Gout that affects a person’s shoulder is rare. Additionally, gout has symptoms that are similar to those of some other conditions. Therefore, it may be difficult for a doctor to diagnose it.

During the diagnostic process, a doctor may ask a person about their medical history. They may also ask a person about their symptoms.

Other methods a doctor can use to diagnose a person with gout include:

A doctor may also take a fluid sample from the person’s affected shoulder to check for urate crystals. Additionally, they may take samples from swollen bursae in the joint. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the joint. The doctor may also take a sample of any tophi a person may have.

Treatment for gout may depend on a person’s symptoms, as well as the cause of their condition.

A doctor may recommend certain medications to treat a gout flare, such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. These can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.

A doctor may also prescribe:

  • colchicine, an anti-inflammatory medication
  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • uricosuric agents, which help the kidneys remove more urate from the body
  • xanthine oxidase inhibitors, which help prevent urate production
  • uricase, which helps break down urate into a form that is easier for the body to remove

A doctor may also recommend certain lifestyle changes for a person who has gout. These may include:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • avoiding foods that may trigger a gout flare
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • avoiding drinks with high fructose levels, such as soda
  • losing weight, with a doctor’s guidance
  • exercising regularly
  • staying hydrated

A person may also find that applying ice to their shoulder helps with pain and swelling. The Arthritis Foundation recommends wrapping a bag of frozen peas or crushed ice in a dishcloth and applying it to the area for 20–30 minutes. A person can do this several times per day.

A person may be able to prevent gout by keeping their urate levels low. They may do this in the following ways:

  • avoiding or reducing intake of foods containing purines
  • reducing or avoiding alcohol
  • limiting sugary foods and drinks
  • eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • eating low fat or fat-free dairy products
  • exercising regularly
  • limiting foods high in saturated fats

A person should speak with their doctor if they experience any symptoms of gout. Without treatment, a person’s gout flares can last longer and become more frequent.

The NIAMS notes that, with treatment, early diagnosis, and lifestyle modifications, gout is one of the most controllable forms of arthritis.

Gout can have similar symptoms to other conditions. A person may benefit from speaking with a rheumatologist, which is a doctor who specializes in gout and other inflammatory conditions that affect the joints.

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. It is caused by high levels of urate in a person’s blood. Although it generally affects the joints of the lower limbs, it can affect the shoulder in rare cases.

Symptoms of gout can flare up suddenly and last for several days or weeks. If a person has gout in their shoulder, they may experience pain, limited mobility, and swelling.

There are several medications a doctor can use to treat gout. With treatment, a person can better manage their gout symptoms. A person should speak with their doctor if they experience any symptoms of gout.