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The use of polarizing light microscopy during synovial fluid analysis in 1961 by McCarty and Hollander and the subsequent application of other crystallographic techniques, such as electron microscopy, energy-dispersive elemental analysis, and x-ray diffraction, have allowed investigators to identify the roles of different microcrystals, including monosodium urate (MSU), calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate (CPPD), calcium apatite (apatite), and calcium oxalate (CaOx), in inducing acute or chronic arthritis or periarthritis. The clinical events that result from deposition of MSU, CPPD, apatite, and CaOx have many similarities but also have important differences. Before the use of crystallographic techniques in rheumatology, much of what was considered to be gouty arthritis in fact was not. Because of often similar clinical presentations, the need to perform synovial fluid analysis to distinguish the type of crystal involved must be emphasized. Polarized light microscopy alone can identify most typical crystals; apatite, however, is an exception. Aspiration and analysis of effusions are also important to assess the possibility of infection. Apart from the identification of specific microcrystalline materials or organisms, synovial fluid characteristics in crystal-associated diseases are nonspecific, and synovial fluid can be inflammatory or noninflammatory. A list of possible musculoskeletal manifestations of crystal-associated arthritis is shown in Table 333-1.

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Table 333-1 Musculoskeletal Manifestations of Crystal-Induced Arthritis 
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Gout is a metabolic disease that most often affects middle-aged to elderly men and postmenopausal women. It results from an increased body pool of urate with hyperuricemia. It typically is characterized by episodic acute and chronic arthritis caused by deposition of MSU crystals in joints and connective tissue tophi and the risk for deposition in kidney interstitium or uric acid nephrolithiasis (Chap. 359).

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Acute and Chronic Arthritis

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Acute arthritis is the most common early clinical manifestation of gout. Usually, only one joint is affected initially, but polyarticular acute gout can occur in subsequent episodes. The metatarsophalangeal joint of the first toe often is involved, but tarsal joints, ankles, and knees also are affected commonly. Especially in elderly patients or in advanced disease, finger joints may be involved. Inflamed Heberden's or Bouchard's nodes may be a first manifestation of gouty arthritis. The first episode of acute gouty arthritis frequently begins at night with dramatic joint pain and swelling. Joints rapidly become warm, red, and tender, with a clinical appearance that often mimics that of cellulitis. Early attacks tend to subside spontaneously within 3–10 days, and most patients have intervals of varying length with no residual symptoms until the next episode. Several events may precipitate acute gouty arthritis: dietary excess, trauma, surgery, excessive ethanol ingestion, hypouricemic therapy, and serious medical illnesses such as myocardial infarction and stroke.

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