Behçet’s disease is a rare, systemic, form of vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels). It often presents with uclers in mucous membranes, and involvement of the eyes. As a systemic disease, it also involves visceral organs such as the gastrointestinal tract, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and neurological systems.
Behçet’s disease is common in some parts of the world, but it is rare in North America. Although people of all ages can develop the disease, it mainly affects people in their twenties or thirties. Some people may have inherited 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.
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. The symptoms of Behçet’s disease differ from one person to the next.
The five most common symptoms of Behçet’s disease are:
- Mouth sores
- Genital sores
- Other skin sores
- Swelling of parts of the eye
Less common symptoms include:
- Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord
- Blood clots
- Inflammation in the digestive system
Symptoms may appear, disappear, and then reappear. The times when a person is having symptoms are called flares.
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
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.
There is no cure for Behçet’s disease at this time. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and prevent serious problems. Common treatments include:
- Corticosteroids to reduce pain and inflammation
- Immunosuppressive drugs to help control the immune system, reduce inflammation, and prevent disease flares
- Rest (during flares)
- Moderate exercise, such as swimming or walking, during periods of remission