Behcet's (beh-CHETS) disease, also called Behcet's syndrome, is a rare disorder that causes blood vessel inflammation throughout your body.
The disease can lead to numerous signs and symptoms that can seem unrelated at first. They can include mouth sores, eye inflammation, skin rashes and lesions, and genital sores.
Treatment involves medications to reduce the signs and symptoms of Behcet's disease and to prevent serious complications, such as blindness.
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Behcet's disease symptoms vary from person to person, can come and go or become less severe over time. Signs and symptoms depend on which parts of your body are affected.
Areas commonly affected by Behcet's disease include:
- Mouth. Painful mouth sores that look similar to canker sores are the most common sign of Behcet's disease. They begin as raised, round lesions in the mouth that quickly turn into painful ulcers. The sores usually heal in one to three weeks, though they do recur.
- Skin. Some people develop acnelike sores on their bodies. Others develop red, raised and tender nodules on their skin, especially on the lower legs.
- Genitals. Red, open sores can occur on the scrotum or the vulva. The sores are usually painful and can leave scars.
- Eyes. Inflammation in the eye (uveitis) causes redness, pain and blurred vision, typically in both eyes. In people with Behcet's disease, the condition can come and go.
- Joints. Joint swelling and pain often affect the knees in people with Behcet's disease. The ankles, elbows or wrists also might be involved. Signs and symptoms can last one to three weeks and go away on their own.
- Blood vessels. Inflammation in veins and arteries can cause redness, pain, and swelling in the arms or legs when a blood clot results. Inflammation in the large arteries can lead to complications, such as aneurysms and narrowing or blockage of the vessel.
- Digestive system. A variety of signs and symptoms can affect the digestive system, including abdominal pain, diarrhea and bleeding.
- Brain. Inflammation in the brain and nervous system can cause headache, fever, disorientation, poor balance or stroke.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice unusual signs and symptoms that might indicate Behcet's disease. If you've been diagnosed with the condition, see your doctor if you notice new signs and symptoms.
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Behcet's disease might be an autoimmune disorder, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks some of its own healthy cells. It's likely that genetic and environmental factors play a role.
The signs and symptoms of Behcet's disease are considered to be due to inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis). The condition can involve arteries and veins of all sizes, damaging them throughout the body.
Several genes have been found to be associated with the disease. Some researchers believe a virus or bacterium can trigger Behcet's disease in people who have certain genes that make them susceptible to Behcet's.
Factors that might increase your risk of Behcet's include:
- Age. Behcet's disease commonly affects men and women in their 20s and 30s, though children and older adults also can develop the condition.
- Where you live. People from countries in the Middle East and East Asia, including Turkey, Iran, Japan and China, are more likely to develop Behcet's.
- Sex. While Behcet's disease occurs in both men and women, the disease is usually more severe in men.
- Genes. Having certain genes is associated with a higher risk of developing Behcet's.
Complications of Behcet's disease depend on your signs and symptoms. For instance, untreated uveitis can lead to decreased vision or blindness. People with eye signs and symptoms of Behcet's disease need to visit an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) regularly because treatment can help prevent this complication.