Behcet's disease

Behcet's (beh-CHETS) disease, also called Behcet's syndrome, is a rare disorder that causes inflammation in blood vessels throughout your body. The inflammation of Behcet's disease leads to numerous symptoms that may initially seem unrelated. The signs and symptoms of Behcet's disease — which may include mouth sores, eye inflammation, skin rashes and lesions, and genital sores — vary from person to person and may come and go on their own.

The exact cause of Behcet's is unknown, but it may be an autoimmune disorder, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks some of its own healthy cells. Both genetic and environmental factors may be responsible for Behcet's disease.

Treatment aims to reduce the signs and symptoms of Behcet's disease and to prevent serious complications, such as blindness.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Behcet's disease symptoms vary from person to person. Behcet's disease may disappear and recur on its own. The signs and symptoms that you may experience depend on which parts of your body are affected by the inflammation of Behcet's disease. 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. Sores begin as raised, round lesions in the mouth that quickly turn into painful ulcers. The sores heal usually in about one to three weeks, though they do recur.
  • Skin. Skin lesions may occur in people with Behcet's disease. Skin problems can vary. Some people may develop acne-like sores on their bodies. Others may develop red, raised and tender nodules on their skin, especially on the lower legs.
  • Genitals. People with Behcet's disease may develop sores on their genitals. The sores commonly occur on the scrotum or the vulva. Sores appear as red, ulcerated lesions. The genital sores are usually painful and may leave scars.
  • Eyes. Behcet's disease may cause inflammation in the eye — a condition called uveitis (u-vee-I-tis). In people with Behcet's disease, uveitis causes redness, pain and blurred vision in one or both eyes and may come and go. Inflammation that occurs in the blood vessels of the retina is a serious complication of the disorder.
  • Joints. Joint swelling and pain often affect the knees in people with Behcet's disease. The ankles, elbows or wrists also may be involved. Signs and symptoms may last one to three weeks and go away on their own.
  • Vascular system. Inflammation in veins and large arteries may occur in Behcet's disease, causing redness, pain and swelling in the arms or legs when a blood clot results. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of Behcet's are believed to be caused by inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis). Inflammation in the large arteries can lead to complications, such as aneurysms and narrowing or blockage of the vessel.
  • Digestive system. Behcet's disease may cause a variety of signs and symptoms that affect the digestive system, including abdominal pain, diarrhea or bleeding.
  • Brain. Behcet's disease may cause inflammation in the brain and nervous system that leads to headache, fever, disorientation, poor balance or stroke.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any unusual signs and symptoms that might indicate Behcet's disease. If you've been diagnosed with Behcet's disease, see your doctor if you notice any new signs and symptoms.

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