Behçet’s disease: causes, symptoms and treatment

Behçet's disease

Behçet’s disease is named after the Turkish dermatologist Hulusi Behçet, who discovered the disease in 1937. It is no coincidence that it is a Turkish doctor, because Turkey is the country that counts the most cases in the world: 20 to 420 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In northern European countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, there are only 2 cases in 100,000 people. Other regions of the world where the disease is relatively present are the Middle East, Iran, China, Japan and Korea.

What is Behçet’s disease?

Behçet’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the blood vessels. It manifests itself by relapses and remissions. It affects both men and women and the first symptoms usually appear between the ages of 20 and 40. In many cases, symptoms are more severe in the first 5 years, after which they decrease or even go away. However, the disease can have serious consequences, even fatal in 5 to 10% of cases. This mainly affects younger and male patients.

Symptoms

The most characteristic symptoms of this disease are recurrent mouth ulcers, which are observed in almost 100% of patients. The other symptoms are very diverse and vary from patient to patient.

  • genital ulcers (mainly in women)
  • painful red eyes and vision problems (mainly in men)
  • abnormalities of large blood vessels (mainly in men)
  • gastrointestinal disturbances (such as diarrhea, ulcers and pain)
  • skin disorders (acne, painful rash)
  • neurological disorders (sensory and coordination disorders)
  • inflammation of the joints (mainly the knees and ankles)
  • The most serious consequences of the disease can occur if the eyes, large blood vessels or the brain are involved in the clinical picture.

Do I suffer from Behçet’s disease?

Canker sores are sometimes very painful, but it is important to note that in most cases they have a harmless cause, and in any case other than Behçet’s disease. Only 1 to 3% of people with recurrent mouth ulcers are affected by this disease.

When is it advisable to see a doctor?

  • In addition to the recurrent mouth ulcers, you experience one or more of the other symptoms or have other health problems.
  • Some members of your family are suffering from Behçet’s disease and you are very worried.

What are the causes?

The exact cause of Behçet’s disease is unknown, but scientists believe that genes play a role in its development. Family members where it occurs will therefore have a higher risk of contracting the disease. In addition, certain viral and bacterial infections can trigger Behçet’s disease in genetically predisposed people.

The diagnosis

The doctor makes the diagnosis based on the symptoms described by the patient. Among other things, the doctor examines the form and number of canker sores in the mouth and the organs affected by symptoms. Diagnosis is not always easy because symptoms vary widely and can be caused by other conditions such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, reactive arthritis and herpes infections. Since these diseases are more common, the doctor will want to rule out these possible causes first. In some cases, additional tests are necessary and several specialists will need to be consulted to arrive at a diagnosis.

What treatment?

There is currently no cure for Behçet’s disease. Management focuses on the inflammatory process to relieve pain and prevent organ damage. The specialists consulted and the medications prescribed by the doctor will be different for different patients, depending on the organs affected, their age, sex and the severity of symptoms. In some cases, surgery is necessary to limit complications.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to prevent the disease or influence its course. However, it is important that you get to the doctor on time if you think you have Behçet’s disease. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better medications can help control it. It is important to strictly follow the prescribed treatment, even during periods without symptoms.

Seeing your doctor regularly to keep an eye out for symptoms is also important. This allows medication to be adjusted if necessary.

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