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Behcet's Disease: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

If you experience recurring canker sores in your mouth, ulcers on your genitals, and inflammation in your eyes, you may have a rare autoimmune disease called Behcet's disease (or Behcet's syndrome). We'll break down what is known about the causes of this condition, what symptoms you're likely to experience, and how you can best manage the disease so you can continue having a lifestyle that makes you smile.

What is Behcet's Disease?

Behcet's disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body's natural defenses against infection and disease to attack healthy tissues. The disease was first described in the 1930s by a Turkish dermatologist, Hulusi Behcet.

What Causes Behcet's Disease?

The causes of this disease are still unknown. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, only 5 percent of cases occur in family members of people who have had it before, and it's not contagious. The Mayo Clinic notes that some researchers believe a virus or bacteria may trigger the disease in people with certain genes (according to John Hopkins, the gene HLA-B51 is a risk factor). Still, the genes themselves are not likely to be the cause. Environmental factors may play a role as well.

Other risk factors include:

  • Where You Live
    This disease is most prevalent in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and East Asia but can be found worldwide. Cases do occur in the United States but are rarer here.
  • Gender
    This syndrome can affect anyone, but Behcet's tends to be more severe in men.
  • Age
    Behcet's can occur at any age, but most commonly is found in men and women in their 20s and 30s.

What are the Symptoms of Behcet's Disease?

Behcet's disease causes inflammation in the blood vessels and can have effects throughout your entire body. There are no tests for this condition, so physicians and dentists diagnose the syndrome by identifying key symptoms that you may be experiencing, like:

  • Mouth sores
    Lesions in the mouth may be the first symptom to appear if you have Behcet's. Most people notice oral manifestations like round sores in the mouth's lining that can turn into ulcers. These sores tend to go away within one to three weeks, but they are likely to return if it's truly Behcet's. One way in which health professionals may diagnose Behcet's is by noting how frequently your mouth sores come back.
  • Genital sores
    Lesions that can be either shallow or deep with reddish borders are common in people with Behcet's.
  • Eye inflammation
    Some patients experience eye pain, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, tears, and eye redness. In severe cases, the inflammation may result in blindness.
  • Skin lesions
    Common effects on the skin include acne-like bumps, nodules, or ulcers – with or without pain.
  • Joint pain
    Inflammation or swelling in the joints may cause pain in the ankles, knees, elbows, and hips, but the joints aren't usually permanently damaged.
  • Inflamed veins
    Veins throughout the body — both deep veins and those close to the skin — may form clots. This can lead to severe issues with the functioning of the heart, brain, or lungs.

Because there's no test for Behcet's disease, doctors will also rule out other causes for these symptoms, including lupus and Crohn's disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Treatment Options

Because it's a chronic disease with no cure, your symptoms may appear and disappear even while you're undergoing treatment. The best way to effectively manage Behcet's is by consulting with a team of dentists and physicians who can help you find the best treatment options to minimize your specific symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic states that corticosteroids are often used to decrease inflammation and pain. The anti-inflammatory medication colchicine and a medicated mouthrinse can help with mouth sores. Other medications can help suppress the immune system that's attacking healthy tissues, such as infliximab.

Practicing Good Oral Hygiene with Behcet's Disease

If you have sores in your mouth, continue practicing good oral hygiene as you normally would, but avoid the sores. Brush at least twice a day, and don't forget to brush your tongue. Consider using other helpful products like tongue scrapers and an antimicrobial mouthrinse (gentle options are available if they cause pain).

Despite the discomfort that comes with Behcet's disease symptoms, you can continue to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life if you manage them well. Take good care of yourself, eat a well-balanced diet, and practice good oral hygiene. Make regular visits to your health and dental professionals as they are best positioned to make good recommendations tailored to your specific needs. And try to keep a positive outlook because it can have real effects on your overall health and ability to recover. We wish you the very best. You can do this!

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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