Behcet's Syndrome: What to Know

What Is Behcet’s Syndrome?

This rare condition causes the body’s blood vessels to swell. This swelling can cause lots of symptoms throughout your body. Sores inside your mouth and on your genitals are common, but you may also have problems in other areas, like your eyes.

There’s no cure for it, but there are many ways to treat the symptoms as they appear.

Causes

Doctors aren't sure what causes Behcet's syndrome. They believe it starts when the immune system mistakenly attacks the blood vessels.

You're more likely to get it if you have a problem with your immune system. Some people inherit genes that cause their immune system to attack the blood vessels. Doctors believe an infection or something else in the environment triggers the condition in those who have the gene.

Behcet's syndrome is very rare in the U.S. It's more common in the Middle East, Asia, and Japan, or among people from these areas.

It usually shows up when you are in your 20s or 30s, but you can get it at any age. It affects more men than women.

Symptoms

Behcet's syndrome is different for everyone. Some people have only mild symptoms. Others have more serious problems.

Symptoms often come and go. Bouts of symptoms are called flares.

The most common symptoms are sores in the mouth and on the genitals. Most people with Behcet's syndrome have these sores.

But it also causes a lot of other symptoms, in many different areas.

Mouth:

  • Sores on the lips, tongue, and inside of the cheek
  • Mouth pain

Eyes:

Genitals:

  • Sores on the scrotum in men
  • Sores on the vulva in women

Skin:

  • Bumps that look like acne
  • Red lumps on the legs and ankles

Joints:

Brain and spinal cord:

Digestive system:

Sometimes Behcet's also affects other organs, like the kidneys and lungs.

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Diagnosis

It can be hard to diagnose. The symptoms are like those of many other things including Crohn's disease, lupus, and arthritis. It can take months to find out for sure that you have Behcet's.

One way to help diagnose it is to look for groups of symptoms. You may get a diagnosis of Behcet’s if:

You have mouth sores at least three times in one year, and you have at least two of these symptoms:

  • Sores on your genitals
  • Swelling in your eyes along with vision loss
  • Skin sores
  • Positive pathergy test

In a pathergy test, the doctor will prick your arm with a small needle. If a bump forms in that spot one to two days later, it’s a good clue that you may have the condition because it indicates an overreaction by your immune system to a small injury. But you could have Behcet’s and not get this test result.

Doctors Who Treat Behcet’s

Which doctors you see to treat Behcet's depends on your symptoms:

You may need to visit more than one of these doctors.

Treatment

Treatments are based on your symptoms.

Corticosteroids can calm the immune system and bring down swelling in your body.

Other medicines that work to help your immune system response, such as adalimumab (Humira), azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), and infliximab (Remicade) can also be prescribed.

Creams or ointments can ease skin and genital sores.

Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, and colchicine for joint pain and swelling.

Steroid eye drops can bring down eye swelling.

What to Expect

You can live a normal life with Behcet's. In fact, your symptoms might get better as you grow older.

There may be periods of time when all symptoms disappear. These periods are called remissions.

In other cases, symptoms get worse the longer you have it. Medicines help control these symptoms and prevent flares.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on September 15, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Behcet's Disease Association: "Diagnosis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Behcet's Disease."

Genetics Home Reference: "Behcet Disease."

Johns Hopkins: "Behcet's Disease."

National Eye Institute: "Facts About Behcet's Disease of the Eye."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Questions and Answers about Behcet's Disease."

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "What is Behcet's Disease?"

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Behcet's syndrome."

 

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