Overview of Behçet’s Disease

Behçet’s disease is a chronic condition that causes mouth or genital sores, and inflammation in parts of the eye. In some people, the disease also produces arthritis (swollen, painful, stiff joints), skin problems, and inflammation of the digestive tract, brain, or spinal cord.

The disease is named after the doctor who first described it, Dr. Hulusi Behçet.


Doctors can use many medicines to relieve pain, treat symptoms, and prevent complications. You will probably enter a period of remission (a disappearance of symptoms). In some people, treatment does not relieve symptoms, and gradually more serious symptoms, such as eye disease, may occur. Serious symptoms may appear months or years after the first signs of Behçet’s disease.

Who Gets Behçet’s Disease?

Anyone can develop Behçet’s disease, but it is more common among:

  • People in the Middle East, Asia, and Japan, as compared with the United States.
  • Women than men in the United States.
  • Men than women in Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

Behçet’s disease tends to develop in people in their twenties or thirties, but people of all ages can develop this disease.

Symptoms of Behçet’s Disease

Behçet’s disease affects each person differently. You may have only mild symptoms, such as sores in the mouth or on the genitals. Fever, stiff neck, and headaches could be signs of a more severe issue: meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord). These more severe symptoms usually appear months or years after the first signs of Behçet’s disease.

Symptoms can last for a long time or may come and go in a few weeks. Symptoms usually appear, disappear, and then reappear. You are going through a “flare” if you are having symptoms. Each flare could have different symptoms. You should keep a record of which symptoms occur and when. This will help your doctor diagnose and follow your disease, especially since many conditions may look like Behçet’s disease.

Common symptoms of Behçet’s disease include the following:

  • Mouth sores affect almost all people with Behçet’s disease. They are probably the first symptom that you noticed and may occur long before any other symptoms appear. The sores usually have a red border and several may appear at the same time. They may be painful and can make eating difficult. Mouth sores go away in 10 to 14 days but often come back. Small sores usually heal without scarring, but larger sores may scar.
  • Genital sores affect more than half of all people with Behçet’s disease. They usually appear on the scrotum in men and vulva in women. The sores look similar to the mouth sores and may be painful. They may cause scarring after several outbreaks.
  • Skin problems are a common symptom of Behçet’s disease. The sores are red and raised, and may look like a pus-filled bump or bruise. They typically appear on the legs and on the upper torso.
  • Inflammation of the middle or back part of the eye (the uvea) and the iris happens in more than half of all people with Behçet’s disease. This is more common among men than women and typically begins within 2 years of the first symptoms. Eye inflammation can cause blurred vision. In rare cases it causes pain and redness. You should immediately tell your doctor if you have these symptoms, since continued eye inflammation can cause vision loss.
  • Arthritis occurs in over half of all people with Behçet’s disease. Arthritis causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, especially in the knees, ankles, wrists, and elbows. The arthritis usually lasts a few weeks and does not cause permanent joint damage.
  • Blood clots sometimes form in inflamed veins, usually the legs, of some people with Behçet’s disease. The affected area may be painful, swollen, and warm. Blood clots can cause serious health issues. So, be sure to report any of these symptoms to your doctor right away. Some people may have artery problems such as aneurysms (balloon-like swelling of the artery wall).
  • Brain and spinal cord problems occur in about 1 in 4 people with the disease in the United States. Behçet’s disease can cause inflammation of the brain and the thin membrane that covers and protects the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include fever, headache, stiff neck, and difficulty coordinating movement. You should immediately report any of these symptoms to your doctor, as a stroke can result if the condition is not treated.
  • Digestive tract inflammation and sores occur in rare cases. Symptoms can include stomach pain, diarrhea, and/or bleeding. Your doctor will need to rule out other diseases that have similar symptoms, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Causes of Behçet’s Disease

No one knows what causes Behçet’s disease, and it is not contagious. Researchers think that one or more genes produce an abnormality in the immune system, making you more at risk for the disease. This abnormality may make your body’s immune system mistakenly attack its own blood vessels, instead of attacking foreign substances such as germs. Researchers don’t know what triggers this attack, although it could be something in the environment such as bacteria or a virus. The blood vessels become inflamed, producing the symptoms of the disease.

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