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Behcet’s Disease

What Is Behcet’s Disease?

Behcet’s disease is a rare disorder that causes blood vessels to become inflamed. Also known as Behcet’s syndrome, this condition has several symptoms that may not otherwise seem related.

Some signs that a person has Behcet’s disease include mouth sores, skin rashes, eye inflammation, and genital sores. These symptoms often differ from person to person. Many medical specialists believe that Behcet’s disease is an autoimmune disorder.

Seek treatment if you suspect that you have Behcet’s disease. If it is not treated, it may lead to serious complications, such as blindness or stroke. There is no cure for this disease, but there are treatments that can alleviate symptoms, lessen the frequency and intensity of flare-ups, and even put the disease into remission.

What Causes Behcet’s Disease?

The cause of Behcet’s Disease is not known. Some medical professionals believe that it is an autoimmune disorder. With an autoimmune disorder, the body attacks its own healthy cells.

A combination of genetic influences and environmental factors may also lead to Behcet’s Disease.

Who Is at Risk for Behcet’s Disease?

People who are from (or whose ancestors are from) the Middle East and Far East—especially Turkey, Iran, Japan, and China—have an increased incidence of Behcet's disease (National Health Service). This suggests a possible genetic component. The condition often affects young adults in their 20s and 30s, but it has appeared in younger people and older adults. Behcet’s Disease is often more severe in men, but it occurs in both men and women.

What Are the Symptoms of Behcet’s Disease?

Behcet’s disease has many symptoms, and they vary from person to person.

People with Behcet’s disease often have inflammation in their veins and large arteries, which causes pain, redness and swelling in the arms and/or legs. Many symptoms associated with Behcet’s Disease are said to be a result of blood vessel inflammation, or vasculitis. When large arteries are inflamed, there can be serious complications such as aneurysms, vessel narrowing, and blockages.

The most common sign of Behcet’s disease is painful mouth sores similar to canker sores. The sores start off as round lesions that are raised, and they quickly turn into painful ulcers. They can heal on their own in about one to three weeks, but they frequently reappear.

Another sign is sores on the skin. The sores often appear as raised nodules that may look like acne.

People with Behcet’s disease can develop sores on the scrotum or vulva. These sores can be red and ulcerated, and are usually painful. They often leave scars.

Uveitis, or eye inflammation, is another sign of Behcet’s Disease. This condition causes pain and redness as well as blurred vision. Inflammation in the blood vessels of the retina is a serious complication that can come with the disorder.

Joint swelling, especially pain and swelling in the knees, is common with Behcet’s disease. Ankles, elbows and writs may also become swollen. Inflammation and pain in these areas often last for about a week to three weeks, and may go away on their own.

Abdominal pain, bleeding, or diarrhea can be associated with having Behcet’s disease. The condition can also lead to inflammation in the brain or nervous system, which can cause stroke, headache, fever, impaired balance, or disorientation.

How Is Behcet’s Disease Diagnosed?

Diagnosing Behcet’s disease can be a challenge; instead of performing a diagnostic test, your physician may take a multifaceted approach. He or she may take laboratory samples and assess your symptoms. Doctors often look for people who have had recurrent mouth sores—that appeared at least three times in one year—along with other symptoms such as genital sores or eye problems.

How Is Behcet’s Disease Treated?

A variety of medications can treat Behcet’s Disease and alleviate pain and other symptoms.

A doctor may prescribe medications to take only during flare-ups. Sometimes people with more severe symptoms are placed on a long-term medication or medications as well. Age and sex are two factors a physician will probably consider when devising a treatment plan for patients with Behcet’s Disease.

Some topical medications can be used to treat Behcet’s Disease.

A doctor may also prescribe a mouth rinse containing corticosteroids. This can lessen the pain from mouth sores. Eye drops containing corticosteroids or other medications can help soothe redness or pain in the eyes if they are affected.

What Is the Outlook for Behcet’s Disease?

People with Behcet’s disease can lead normal lives with proper rest and care. Flare-ups often become less frequent with effective treatment, and many patients experience remission.

Preventing Behcet’s Disease

There is no cure for Behcet’s disease and no way to prevent it, though effective treatment can ease the symptoms.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Kristen Fischer
Medically reviewed on: Dec 19, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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