Behcet's disease is a rare autoimmune disorder that causes your blood vessels to become inflamed. A type of vasculitis, Behcet's can affect any blood vessel or organ in your body. For this reason, you may have different symptoms than someone else with Behcet's.
Many people with Behcet's only have mild to moderate symptoms. However, the disease can potentially cut off the blood supply to organs, causing serious consequences.
Causes and Symptoms of Behcet's Disease
Autoimmune disorders like Behcet's occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. It is not yet known what causes Behcet’s. People with Behcet's are more likely to have the genetic marker HLA-B51; however, not everyone with this gene gets Behcet's. For this reason, scientists believe that an infection or something in the environment may also play a role.
The following five symptoms are most common in people with Behcet's:
- Recurring sores in your mouth (at least three times in 12 months)
- Recurring genital sores
- Eye inflammation, which may cause redness, blurry vision or vision loss
- Acne-like skin sores or skin rashes
- Swollen joints (arthritis)
People with more serious cases of Behcet’s disease may have additional symptoms, including the following:
- Swelling in arms or legs from blood clots
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea or intestinal bleeding
- Headache, fever, poor balance or stroke
Sometimes your Behcet's symptoms look like symptoms for other diseases, such as Crohn's disease, or your symptoms may emerge slowly over several years. This makes diagnosis tricky. That's when the expertise of an experienced rheumatologist is needed.
Rush rheumatologists aim to make an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible. In addition to listening to your symptom history, we may order certain tests, including the following:
- A blood test for the HLA-B51 genetic marker
- Other blood tests and imaging tests to rule out other diseases
- A skin prick test (pathergy) to see if your immune system overreacts to the small injury
Behcet's Disease Treatment at Rush
Behcet's disease is treatable but not curable. Symptoms may disappear (go into remission) and come back (flare). Your Rush rheumatologist will work with you to develop a personalized plan to reduce your pain, and prevent flares and complications. With effective treatment, flares typically become less frequent.
Medications: Your treatment at Rush might include the following medications:
- Corticosteroids to reduce pain and inflammation
- Immunosuppressive medicine to control the immune system, reduce inflammation and prevent flares
- Eye drops for inflammation in the eyes.
- Topical steroids to treat rashes and other skin symptoms
Lifestyle changes: Getting a lot of rest when your symptoms are flaring may help. During periods of remission, moderate exercise, such as swimming or walking, can help prevent flares.
Consultations with other specialists: Behcet’s disease affects several organ systems. Other specialists may be consulted during your diagnosis, including some of the following:
- Ophthalmologists to identify and treat complications from eye inflammation
- Dermatologists to address mouth or skin lesions
- Gynecologists to treat women’s genital sores
- Urologists to treat men’s genital sores
- Gastroenterologists to identify and manage digestive problems
Rush Excellence in Behcet's Disease
- Expert diagnosis: You may have different symptoms than someone else with Behcet's disease. That's one of the reasons this disease can be difficult to diagnose. Because Rush rheumatologists take care of thousands of patients with vasculitis every year, including Behcet's disease, we have seen this disease present in a variety of ways and are better able to diagnose it than physicians with less experience.
- Comprehensive care: Because Rush is a major academic health system, you will find all the physician specialists you need to treat your Behcet's symptoms and complications. For instance, if your disease is affecting your eyes, we have a large team of ophthalmologists who see patients in multiple locations in Illinois. The same is true if you need a dermatologist, gastroenterologist, urologist, gynecologist or another specialist.
- Personalized chronic disease management: Once you develop Behcet's, you will have it your entire life. You deserve an empathetic partner to walk beside you as you learn to manage and live with the disease. Rush rheumatologists view patients as experts on their own bodies and lives. We will work alongside you, making recommendations on how you can prevent or minimize flares based on what you tell us about what matters most to you.
- Preventive care: In addition to managing your Behcet's care, your Rush rheumatologist will be watching out for your overall health. If you need to take immunosuppressive medication to treat your Behcet's, you will have an increased risk of infection and bone loss. At Rush, your rheumatologist will carefully monitor your health and prescribe treatments to prevent complications, such as medication to prevent osteoporosis.