Behçet’s disease 

Introduction 

Painful mouth ulcers are a symptom of Behçet’s disease 

Hulusi Behçet

Behçet’s disease is named after a Turkish dermatologist (skin specialist) called Hulusi Behçet. Behçet was the first person to realise that what were previously thought to be unrelated symptoms are in fact caused by a single condition.

Dr Behçet published his initial findings in 1936 and the condition has been known as Behçet’s disease ever since.

Behçet’s disease is a rare and poorly understood condition that causes inflammation (swelling) of the blood vessels.

It is also known as Behçet’s syndrome.  

The inflammation often occurs in the mouth and genitals, which leads to the two most common symptoms of Behçet’s disease:

  • mouth ulcers – painful, clearly defined round or oval sores that form in the mouth
  • genital ulcers

However, the inflammation can affect blood vessels located throughout the body and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. These can be relatively mild, such as headaches and acne, or more serious, such as vision loss. In some cases symptoms can be life-threatening, such as stroke.

Read more about the symptoms of Behçet’s disease.

There is no single test that can be used to diagnose Behçet’s disease. A diagnosis is usually made based on your symptoms and by ruling out other conditions.

What causes Behçet’s disease?

The cause of Behçet’s disease is unknown, although most experts believe that it is an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune condition is where the immune system, which is the body’s natural defence against infection and illness, mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are examples of more common autoimmune conditions.

Read more about the causes of Behçet’s disease.

Who is affected?

Behçet’s disease tends to be more common in the 'silk road' countries of the Far East, Middle East and Mediterranean, such as Turkey, Iran and Israel.

Turkey has the highest number of cases of Behçet’s disease. In some parts of the country around 420 people out of every 100,000 are affected by the condition.

Behçet’s disease is much rarer in England, with between one and five people for every 100,000 being affected. People of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian origin are thought to be most at risk of developing the condition, although it can affect all ethnic groups.

In some countries, men are much more likely to develop Behçet’s disease than women. For example, in Iran, men are 20 times more likely to develop it than women. However, this is not the case in England where the condition affects men and women equally.

The symptoms of Behçet’s disease can begin at any age, although they usually first appear when a person is between 30 and 40 years of age. The symptoms tend to be worse in men.

Treating Behçet’s disease

There is no cure for Behçet’s disease, but it is possible to control the symptoms with medicines that suppress the immune system, known as immunosuppressants.

Your healthcare team will create a specific treatment plan for you depending on your symptoms. There may be several types of treatment needed as Behçet’s disease can affect many different parts of the body.

Read more about treating Behçet’s disease.

Outlook

Behçet’s disease is highly unpredictable. Most people with the condition will experience episodes where their symptoms are severe, followed by periods where the symptoms disappear (known as remission). As yet, no triggers that cause a flare-up of symptoms have been identified.

In the most serious cases of Behçet’s disease, inflammation of the eyes can lead to vision loss. It is estimated that one in four people with Behçet’s disease will experience some degree of vision loss. However, in the future it is hoped that this number will decrease following the introduction of a number of new types of medication.

Inflammation of the nervous system, veins and arteries, or heart can be life-threatening. However, due to the standard of care in England, deaths from Behçet’s disease are very rare.




Page last reviewed: 22/08/2012

Next review due: 22/08/2014

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

VALLY64 said on 08 May 2012

I was diagnosed with Behçet’s Disease/Syndrome 8mths ago in Autumn 2011. I also suffer from Parvovirus Arthritis & Reynaulds so I have a number of overlapping symptoms.

With Behçet’s I have joint pain at all times but in varying degrees of severity; regular (almost permanent) crops of mouth ulcers which extend to the back of my throat as well as my gums, tongue and inner cheeks. I suffer headaches, nausea & dizziness and I have patches of painful vasculitis on my thighs.

I get very tired easily despite being energetic and hardworking. I manage to work part time as a Registered Nurse in a busy I.T.U. I split my duties so that I can rest the day after a shift as my joints get stiff & painful.

I'm under the care of a Consultant Rheumatologist and presently on Naproxen 250mgs, 3 times day.
Omeprazole 20mg to protect my stomach.
I take Stemetil tabs when I have bouts of nausea and dizziness. And I take regular Paracetamol containing Caffeine.

I suffer from a wide variety of transient symptoms but as I'm 48 and in the Peri-menopausal stage I'm not sure what I can attribute to the conditions I suffer from.

I find it helpful to keep a diary of symptoms, flares: duration, dates etc. This is a great help when visiting the consultant as often things are forgotten in time, it also helps him gauge how the Behcets is progressing or being managed.

Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, learn what foods affect you, I'm better off wheat but I don't forbid myself a treat. Stay positive and live your life!
I hope this helps a little.

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sooty50 said on 23 April 2011

i started with bechets at the age 27yr i am now 50yr i have all the symptoms and was under very good doctor at my local hospital i have had all the drugs for this desease but nothing really work just make me more poorly i was in hospital cripled with this illness also had the ulcers mouth and virgina i am still in pain now but every joint i have been on chloroquine 250mg now for 15yrs which as kept it under controll but now i feel that its not working as good i am now get the headaces and sickness all the time but i have got on with my life when i have been able grown hard to the pain had to learn to live with it as i had 2 boys who i have bring up on my own this desease is so horrible and when i have flare ups thers no pain like it i have learnt that you have to keep active as you stiffen up which makes you tierd all time i felt like old women at 27yrs old i sit down when i got up i cripled untill i got my body going my tongue as been eaten away with the ulcers and virgina also i just wanted to die at that time of my flare up i find diet helps stay of acid drinks food otherwise i get burning feeling in my joints i now have sore ankles wrists fingers hips shoulders neck and just tierd all time this is my experience of bechets

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