Should serum uric acid testing be used in the diagnosis of gout?

Updated: Jan 26, 2021
  • Author: Bruce M Rothschild, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Answer

Measurement of serum uric acid is the most misused test in the diagnosis of gout. The presence of hyperuricemia in the absence of symptoms is not diagnostic of gout. In addition, as many as 15% of patients with symptoms from gout may have normal serum uric acid levels at the time of their attack. Thus, the diagnosis of gout can be missed if the joint is not aspirated. Remember that situations that decrease uric acid levels can trigger attacks of gout. In such cases, the patient’s medical records may reveal prior elevations of uric acid.

Approximately 25% of the population has a history of elevated serum uric acid, but only a minority of patients with hyperuricemia develop gout. Thus, an abnormally high serum uric acid level does not indicate or predict gout. As noted, gout is diagnosed by the presence of urate crystals in the synovial fluid or soft tissues. More important, some patients who present with a hot swollen joint and an elevated serum uric acid level in fact have infectious arthritis, which may be mismanaged if their synovial fluid is not examined.


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