Behçet’s disease is a rare autoimmune disorder that causes the body's blood vessels to swell.
Behçet’s (pronounced beh-CHETS) disease, also called Behçet’s syndrome, is a rare disorder that causes the body's blood vessels to become inflamed. The inflammation may affect eyes, mouth, skin, genitals, and joints. Symptoms may come and go, but Behçet’s is a chronic (lifelong) disease. Although it can affect anyone at any age, symptoms generally begin in people in their 20s or 30s. The disease is more common in men and among people living in the Middle and Far East.
Behçet's is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. For unknown reasons, the immune system doesn’t work properly and attacks blood vessels. Although the cause is not understood, certain genes make some people more likely to develop the disease. In people who inherit these genes, contact with bacteria or viruses or other environmental factors triggers a faulty immune response.
The symptoms of Behçet's are different for everyone. The most common ones include:
- Sores in the mouth and on the skin or genital area.
- Joint pain and swelling (knees, wrists, elbows, ankles).
- Sensitivity to light.
- Muscle aches.
Some people have only mild symptoms, while others have less common but serious effects, including:
- Symptoms related to central nervous system inflammation: limited eye movements, trouble coordinating movements, especially of the face and throat, stroke, memory loss, seizures.
- Blood clots.
- Digestive system problems including pain, diarrhea, bleeding.
- Vision loss.
Diagnosing Behçet's can take a long time because it shares symptoms with other illnesses. The symptoms usually do not appear at one time, and there is no single test to diagnose it. Doctors may make a diagnosis of Behçet's when a person has mouth sores at least three times in 12 months plus two of the following:
- Genital sores that come and go.
- Eye inflammation with vision loss.
- The appearance of small red bumps when the skin is pricked.
The goal of Behçet's treatment is to reduce pain and prevent complications. Doctors may prescribe medicines such as corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the underlying inflammation.
Other treatments may target specific symptoms and include:
- Corticosteroid creams and gels relieve pain and inflammation of skin and genital lesions.
- Mouth rinses reduce the pain of mouth ulcers.
- Eye drops containing corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory medicines reduce eye pain and inflammation.
Learn more about the medications used to treat Behçet's at the arthritis drug guide.
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