First described in 1937 by Dr. Helusi Behcet, a professor of dermatology. Behcet’s Disease is a chronic life long disorder that causes inflammation of the small blood vessels through out the body. It is a multi-system autoimmune disease characterized by vasculitis. The way it inflames small blood vessels it can affect any part of the body where ever there is a blood supply. It has the ability to mimic various other diseases such as MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Crohn’s disease to name a few. Due to the way it manifest itself with such a confusing array of symptoms in so many parts of the body it is often misdiagnosed.
The exact cause of Behcet’s Disease is unknown and nobody knows why the immune system has unpredictable outbreaks/flares and remissions. What they do know is that Behcet’s is not infectious, contagious, nor sexually transmitted. It usually strikes young adults with more being women than men affected in this country. However it can strike at any age. It is commonly found in the Middle East, Asia and Japan but it is thought to be rare in Canada and in the U.S.A.
Researchers believe that Behcet’s Disease sufferers may have a genetic predisposition that is triggered by a bacteria or viral infection. Diagnosing Behcet’s Disease is very difficult because there is no specific test. It is diagnosed by specific criteria & patterns of symptoms and repeated outbreaks of these symptoms. Any other causes for these symptoms have to be ruled out. It may take several months or years for all the common symptoms to appear, therefore a diagnosis may not be made for a long time. Many Behcet’s Disease sufferers feel frustrated and alone.
Although Behcet’s Disease is incurable at the present, it does not mean that it’s untreatable. Treatment is aimed towards individual symptoms as they occur. Medications are given to reduce inflammation, suppress the immune system and help with the pain. Most of the symptoms are painful but not necessarily life-threatening. They come and go in a series of flares and remissions which over time can level off, become less aggressive and less frequent. Most people with Behcet’s Disease have a normal life span and can hope to lead a close to normal daily life, although that is not always the case.
Symptoms of Behcet’s Disease include recurrent mouth ulcers resembling canker sores, recurrent genital ulcers, eye lesions, skin lesions, gastro-intestinal lesions, fatigue, headaches, vasculitis and central nervous system involvement. Behcet’s Disease affects each person differently. Some people may have only mild symptoms while others have more severe debilitating symptoms. The results of the disease may include, but not necessarily include, blindness, stroke, meningitis, swelling of the spinal cord and intestinal complications. The disease affects many different parts of the body; a sufferer will probably see several different doctors. It may be helpful to both doctor and sufferer for one doctor to manage and complete treatment plan. This doctor can co-ordinate treatment and monitor any side effects from the various medications that the patient will take. A Rheumatologist is the one who often manages a person’s overall treatment plan.
It’s difficult for others to understand this disease because “you look so good!” while the pain and fatigue involved as well as the other problems can be overwhelming at times. Each symptom can be treated from pain to depression, which is commonly associated with a chronic illness. Denial is a big part of this process. Sometimes you may feel like you are going crazy. It’s very difficult to deal with and others have a hard time understanding. Having supportive family and friends as well as doctors you trust will help go along way in dealing with this illness. Educate yourself about your disease. The more you know and understand about Behcet’s Disease, the more you can help yourself. Get involved with your treatment plan and keep a diary of your symptoms. Remember, “Don’t give up!” You are not alone anymore.
Researchers are coming closer and closer to understanding this rare and devastating disease. In the meantime, thousand of us suffer silently with the disease that has no known cause, no cure but there is HOPE.