Behcet disease is a rare disease characterised by painful mouth ulcers, genital ulcers, eye problems and skin lesions. The disease is named after the Turkish dermatologist Hulusi Behcet who first described the syndrome in 1924.
The cause of Behcet disease is unknown but it is presumed to be an autoimmune disorder. This is where an individual's immune system starts reacting against his or her own tissues. The reason for this remains a mystery but it is possible bacterial or viral infection may have a role in its development.
Behcet disease is most common and more serious in people with “Silk Road” bloodlines. Silk Road countries include those in the Mediterranean basin, Middle East and Far East; the incidence is around 1 in 10,000 people. However, Behcet disease is seen worldwide even in those with other ethnic heritage; in the US the incidence is reported to be 1 in 20,000.
In people with Silk Road ancestry, Behcet disease is more common in men than in women. However, the trend is reversed with more women than men being affected in people of other ethnic origins. The disease can develop at any age but is most common as people reach 20-30 years.
Mouth ulcers are the most common and earliest sign of Behcet disease. However, before these appear a patient may for a number of years experience a variety of recurrent signs and symptoms that include:
- Sore throats and tonsillitis
- Muscular and joint pain
- Malaise, generalised weakness
- Anorexia, weight loss
- Fluctuations in body temperature
Painful mouth ulcers are usually the first outward sign of Behcet disease and occur in about 70% of patients. Ulcers can occur anywhere in the mouth including on the tongue and inside the lips and cheeks. They usually last for 1-2 weeks but can remain for as long as 3 weeks.
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