What is Behcet’s Disease?
Behcet’s disease is a term used to refer to chronic inflammation of blood vessels of all sizes and types, further affecting small to large arteries and veins. Referred to as an autoinflammatory disease, the syndrome can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Acne-like spots
- Genital ulcers
- Mouth sores
- Red, painful eyes
- Eye inflammation
- Abdominal pain
- Stiff, painful, swollen joints
- Blood in stools
- Blurred vision
In severe cases, it could take the form of potentially life-threatening problems. The syndrome can involve arteries supplying blood to the tissues or affect the veins that supply blood to the lungs. Inflammation of Behcet’s syndrome can affect brain, retina, skin, joints, and bowels.
Though the cause of the syndrome is not yet established, it is regarded as an autoinflammatory condition, where the immune system starts attacking healthy tissues and blood vessels in the body.
In most cases, the initial signs of Behçet’s disease show up when a person is 20-30 years of age.
The disease can cause anterior or posterior uveitis. Anterior uveitis is linked to light sensitivity, blurred vision, pain, or redness of the eye.
Posterior uveitis can have more damaging effects on vision, especially the retina, often resulting in blindness.
Behcet’s disease may cause painful sores or ulcers in the mouth, which are similar in appearance to sores that frequently occur. In Behcet’s syndrome, the lesions are more frequent, numerous, and painful than those that occur normally.
Skin lesions occur in the form of red, tender nodules on ankles and legs. The lesions may appear on the arms, neck, or face.
Blood vessel walls may rupture in the lung, causing massive lung hemorrhage.
In worse conditions, Behcet’s disease may involve the central nervous system, leading to strokes, dementia, confusion, headaches, or personality changes. In some severe cases, the syndrome may affect the protective layers around the brain, resulting in aseptic meningitis.
The syndrome may cause ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract, often affecting the terminal ileum and cecum.
In males, the disease may result in painful genital lesions on the scrotum. While in females, Behcet’s disease may cause painful ulcers on the vulva.
The condition may be diagnosed by conducting a pathergy test that involves pricking the forearm with a small, sterile needle. If a small red bump occurs at the site of needle insertion, the person will test positive for the Behcet’s syndrome.
Treatment of Behcet’s Disease
Though there is no treatment for Behçet’s disease, you can control and manage the symptoms with anti-inflammatory medicines, including
- Immuno-suppressants – reduce the activity of the immune system
- Corticosteroids –anti-inflammatory drugs
- Biological therapies – target biological processes blamed for inflammation
A person suffering from Behcet’s disease may experience sudden eruption and relief from symptoms. Sometimes symptoms are severe, followed by periods of lull with no symptoms.
Inflammation of the veins and arteries can be life threatening, as it may interfere with the blood circulation to and from the heart. In the most serious cases, swelling of the eyes can cause loss of vision. In Japan, this syndrome is the leading cause of vision loss/blindness.