Behçet’s Syndrome

An inflammatory disorder producing recurrent mouth and genital ulcers

  • Most common between the ages of 20 and 40
  • More common in males
  • Sometimes runs in families; more common in some ethnic groups
  • Lifestyle is not a significant factor

Behçet’s syndrome is a rare disorder that varies in severity. The effects range from difficulty in eating to significant disability. Painful ulcers usually recur in the mouth and on the genitals. Other symptoms include eye inflammation (see Uveitis), an acne-like rash, and small, tender lumps on the shins. The brain, spinal cord, and joints (see Arthritis) may be affected, and the blood has an increased tendency to clot.

Behçet’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues. The cause of this abnormal immune reaction is unknown, but it may be triggered by viral infection. The syndrome sometimes runs in families and occurs more often in people of Mediterranean or Japanese origin, which suggests that genetic factors may be involved. Behçet’s syndrome is twice as common in men as in women and most often occurs in people under the age of 40.

What might be done?

Your doctor may suspect Behçet’s syndrome from your symptoms and a physical examination. It may take some time to confirm the diagnosis because there are no specific tests for the condition and many other disorders with similar symptoms need to be excluded. Some of the symptoms may disappear without treatment, but your doctor may prescribe a topical corticosteroid for the ulcers and eyedrops for eye inflammation (see Drugs acting on the eye). In severe cases, oral corticosteroids and/or immunosuppressants may be needed.

Behçet’s syndrome is a lifelong condition with symptom-free periods that may last weeks, months, or even years. It rarely affects life expectancy.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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