Behçet’s (Beh-CHETS or Beh-SHETS) disease is an illness that causes symptoms in various parts of the body. The more common symptoms include sores in the mouth and on the genitals (sex organs). More serious symptoms can include inflammation (swelling, heat, redness, and pain) in the eyes and other parts of the body.
What are the symptoms of Behcet’s syndrome?
The symptoms of Behçet’s disease differ from one person to the next. Some people have only mild symptoms, such as sores in the mouth, while others have more severe problems, such as vision loss.
The five most common symptoms of Behçet’s disease are:
- Mouth sores
- Genital sores
- Other skin sores
- Swelling of parts of the eye
- Arthritis (pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints)
Less common symptoms include:
- Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord
- Blood clots
- Inflammation in the digestive system (the parts of the body that digest food)
Symptoms may appear, disappear, and then reappear. The times when a person is having symptoms are called flares.
What causes Behcet’s syndrome?
Nearly all of the symptoms of Behçet’s disease are due to an inflammation of the blood vessels. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this inflammation. Some people may have inherited (passed on from parent to child) a problem with the immune system that makes them more likely to develop the disease. For these people, contact with substances in the environment, such as bacteria or viruses, may cause the immune system to attack the blood vessels. Behçet’s disease is not contagious; it is not spread from one person to another.
Who is at highest risk?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes Behcet’s. It is rare in the United States, but is common in the Middle East and Asia. It mainly affects people in their 20s and 30s. Diagnosing Behcet’s can take a long time, because symptoms may come and go, and it may take months or even years to have all of the symptoms. There is no cure. Treatment focuses on reducing pain and preventing serious problems.
Behçet’s disease is hard to diagnose because:
- The symptoms do not usually appear all at once
- There are other illnesses that have similar symptoms
- There is no single test to diagnose Behçet’s disease
The symptoms that are key to diagnosing Behçet’s disease include:
- Mouth sores at least three times in 12 months
- Any two of the following:
- Genital sores that go away and come back
- Eye inflammation with loss of vision
- Sores on the skin
- Positive skin prick test (the appearance of small red bumps when the skin is pricked with a needle)
Because it may take months or even years for all the common symptoms to appear, the diagnosis may not be made for a long time. Patients can help their doctors to diagnose Behçet’s disease by keeping a record of their symptoms and when they occur.
When to seek urgent medical care?
Call your health care provider if you are having these symptoms.
The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and prevent serious problems. Common treatments include:
- Corticosteroids (medication to reduce pain and inflammation)
- Immunosuppressive drugs (medication that helps control the immune system, reduce inflammation, and prevent disease flares)
- Rest during flares
- Moderate exercise, such as swimming or walking, during periods of remission (a disappearance of symptoms)
Where to find medical care for Behcet’s syndrome?
Ask our experts on Behcet’s syndrome
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
There is no cure for Behçet’s disease, but most people can control symptoms with treatment.