Behcet's is an autoimmune disease that causes skin problems, sores in the mouth and on the genitals, and inflammation inside the eye. The disease also may result in arthritis and inflammation of the brain, spinal cord and digestive tract. Inflammation inside the eyes can cause blurred vision, pain and redness, and sometimes results in blindness.
Behcet's is not a common disease in the United States. It is most prevalent in the Middle East, Asia and Japan. The disease tends to affect men more often than women, with symptoms first noticed during the 20s and 30s. However, people of all ages can develop the disease.
Behcet's results from damage to the body's blood vessels. In an autoimmune disease such as Behcet's, the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks and harms the tissues of the body, instead of protecting the body from germs and foreign substances. Some researchers have found that certain people have abnormalities within their immune system, making them susceptible to the disease. In others, a bacterium or virus in the environment may trigger the disease. It has been found that people who suffer from recurring strep infections may be more likely to develop Behcet's.
The four most common symptoms of Behcet's include sores inside the mouth, sores on the genitals, inflammation inside the eye, and skin problems. Other symptoms may include arthritis, blood clots, and inflammation of the digestive tract and in the central nervous system.
There is no single test to diagnose Behcet's. The disease is often diagnosed by ophthalmologists, as patients seek help when their eyes and vision become involved. A patient may visit several doctors to determine the cause of various symptoms. A diagnosis is sometimes determined by a collaboration between several doctors, including ophthalmologists, dermatologists and neurologists.
There is no cure for Behcet's. The main goal of treatment is to reduce pain and discomfort and to prevent serious complications from developing. Treatment of Behcet's involves controlling inflammation throughout the body. A variety of medications may be used depending on the severity and progression of the disease. Doctors may prescribe both topical and oral medications.
Mouth rinses and creams may be applied directly to sores in the mouth and on the skin. These medications reduce pain and inflammation.
Oral medications may be used to reduce pain and inflammation, and to suppress the immune system.
Behcet's and the Eye:
Behcet's may cause inflammation inside of the eye. Uveitis, retinitis and iritis occur in many people with the disease. These eye disorders may cause blurry vision, pain and redness. Without proper treatment to suppress the immune system, legal blindness is likely. Vision loss occurs because retinal vessels become blocked, unable to supply the retina with needed oxygen.
The National Eye Institute is currently evaluating the safety and effectiveness of Zenapax, a drug used to control recurrent eye inflammation associated with Behcet's disease. This study is currently recruiting patients. For additional information, please contact NIH Patient Recruitment and Public Liaison Office at 1-800-411-1222.
Source: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Behcet's Disease of the Eye. December 2007.