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Behcet's Syndrome

Turkish dermatologist, Hulusi Behcet (1889-1948) recognized and reported in 1937 symptoms of Behcet's syndrome. A dental infection is attributed as the etiology of the disease. The American Behcet's Disease Foundation (ABDA) was founded in 1978 with the objective to provide support to patients and family as well the caregivers. In the absence of a cure or a single test to definitely determine Behcet's syndrome or Behcet's disease, educate about the syndrome to seek prompt medical attention for treatment.


Morbus Behcet or Silk Road disease is the other name for Behcet Syndrome or disease. Month of May is Behcet's Awareness month and May 20th is Behcet's awareness day. The focus is on spreading awareness and stress the importance of self-help.


Behcet's syndrome facts


  • Non-contagious
  • Exact cause is unknown
  • Genetic predisposition is high.
  • Symptoms are similar to other disease of the digestive tract, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease
  • No single test to confirm diagnosis.
  • No cure available.
  • Disease affects different parts of the body.
  • Men and women are equally prone but more severe in men.
  • In the US, affects more women.
  • More prevalent in Middle East, Mediterranean and Eastern Asia.
  • Turkey has the highest prevalence.
  • Leading cause of blindness in Japan.
  • Most common among age group 20-30.
  • Treatment requires more than one specialist.
  • Continued, extensive research to explore possible genetic, bacterial and viral cause.
  • Research is on to identify medicines to better treat Behcet's disease.

Behcet's syndrome – Autoimmune disease

There are over 14, 000 auto-immune diseases and 7000 plus are rare. Behcet's syndrome is rare. Autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues. Though the clinical feature of auto immunity is absent, Behcet's syndrome is classified as an autoimmune disease as it has various aspects related to autoimmune disease. Enhanced inflammatory response (inflammation of blood vessels) is one such aspect. Significant number of women as compared to men are more likely to be affected by autoimmune disease. Estrogen predisposes women to autoimmune disease.


Behcet's syndrome symptoms

The inflammation of blood vessels, particularly veins causes symptoms in many parts of the body. Swelling, redness, heat and pain are select features of an inflammation. Though Behcet's disease can affect any part of the body, involvement of the neurological system is known as neuro-Behcet's disease and is rated the most disabling complication of the disease. Not that common, neuro-Behcet's disease affects about 10 per cent of people with Behcet's disease.


The most common symptom of Behcet's syndrome is the regular occurrence of ulcers in the mouth and genitals. The symptoms are an off-shoot of inflammation of the eyes, skin, arteries, veins, joints, nervous and digestive systems and heart. Symptoms can be mild or severe. Symptoms can be noticed between ages 20-30 years.

Mouth ulcers: May look like normal mouth ulcers but are more painful and numerous in number. Ulcers develop in the tongue, lips, and gums and inside of the cheeks. Even if the ulcers heal within a couple of weeks, they recur.


Genital ulcers: In men, though genital ulcers can appear anywhere in the groin area, including the penis, it is more common on the scrotum. In women, the ulcers appear on the cervix (neck of the womb), vulva or vagina. The ulcers are usually painful and scars appear around the area.

Skin lesions: Resembling acne, pustular skin lesions can appear anywhere on the body. Erythema nodosum results in red, painful, tender lumps that can measure one to five centimeters. It is the result of inflammation in the fatty layer of the skin. It can appear on the legs and ankles but can also appear on the face, neck or arms. Erythema nodosum related to other disease heal without scars but if related to Behcet's disease, leaves the skin totally discolored.


Inflammation of the eyes: Sudden inflammation of the eyes is a common symptom of Behcet's syndrome. A group of connected tissues, uveal tract is inside the eye. This uveal tract gets inflamed. Uveitis as it is named can cause symptoms such as, painful red eyes, blurred vision and floaters (dots that move across the field of vision). With a possibility of permanent visual impairment, it is best to seek medical attention for appropriate treatment without any delay.

Skin sensitivity: Pathergy is a condition signifying sensitivity of the skin, particularly injury or irritation. Even a needle prick can lead to developing a large red lump in a day or two.


Gastrointestinal symptoms: Inflammation of the stomach and intestines causes symptoms such as loss of appetite, stomach pain, indigestion, diarrhea, feeling sick and vomiting. There is a possibility of damage to the bowel resulting in bleeding. Blood in stools suggests inflammation of the internal lining of the bowel.


Blood clots: Inflammation of the veins can lead to formation of blood clots or thrombosis.

Joint pain: Joint pain in ankles, wrists, knees, elbows and hips is common. Inflammation in the joint can cause swelling, redness and tenderness.

Brain: Meninges is the coverage of the brain. Inflammation of the brain or tissue that covers the brain (meninges) causes symptoms like headache, neck stiffness along with high body temperature. In severe cases, it can damage the nervous tissue and lead to extreme weakness or impaired function of the body.

Aneurysms: Aneurysms are outpouchings of blood vessel walls due to inflammation of arteries in the lungs. This can lead to massive lung hemorrhage. Symptoms include pain in the limbs, severe headache, feeling dizzy, and breathlessness, coughing up blood, confusion and loss of consciousness.

Inflammation of the nervous system: Inflammation of the central nervous system occurs in 5%-10% of reported cases. This is regarded as the most serious symptom. Typical symptoms include headache, double vision, loss of balance, seizures, partial paralysis on one side of the body, personality changes. Any of these are noticeable within the first five years of recognizing initial symptoms.

General symptoms: Experiencing extreme fatigue to the extent that it interrupts with everyday routine is a general symptom of Behcet's syndrome.


Behcet's Syndrome Causes

The exact cause remains unclear. Though regarded as an autoimmune disorder, it is unclear what triggers the autoimmune disorder. Other possible association is genetics. Certain ethnic groups or a family member with the disease increases chances of developing Behcet's syndrome. People with gene HLA B51, variations in other genes like IL10, IL23R-IL2RB2 increases the risk of developing the disease considerably. However, the condition does not have a clear pattern of incidence.


Risk factors identified include:

Age: Children and older adults can develop the condition. But men and women in the age group of 20-3 are more likely to be affected.

Location: People from countries in the Middle East and Far East, including Turkey, Iran, Japan and China are more likely to develop Behcet's syndrome.

Sex: The disease is more severe in men.

Genes: Having certain genes increases the risk of developing the syndrome.


Behcet's Syndrome Diagnosis

In the absence of a single test to diagnose Behcet's syndrome, doctors look out for symptoms. Blood tests or other laboratory tests are recommended to rule out other disease or illness. The criteria include:

Mouth sores: Mouth sores are very common. Many disorders are related to mouth sores. If the mouth sores recur every three months in 12 months, it is regarded as criteria for evaluating the disease.

Doctors look for two additional signs.



Behcet's Syndrome - time to seek help

Recognizing symptoms and relating the symptoms to Behcet's disease is essential. Note down symptoms being experienced and add related information that affects normal routine. Seek appointment with a doctor. If medical attention is delayed, the condition can worsen and lead to losing eye sight or a stroke. At the meeting, divulge family history and inform about medications for any other health issue or supplements being taken.


You are most likely to seek specialist help. Rheumatologist for arthritis, joint pain etc, Ophthalmologist for eye problems, gynecologist or an urologist for genital sores, dermatologist for skin issues, Gastroenterologist for digestive difficulties or neurologist for symptoms related to CNS (central nervous system).


Behcet's Syndrome Treatment

There is no cure for Behcet's syndrome. The treatment is aimed at alleviating the symptoms, reducing the frequency and intensity, put the disease into remission and prevent serious complications. Medicines for controlling the individual symptoms are prescribed. Some medicines are prescribed with other medicines to suppress the activity of immune system. Some medicines can have side effects too.

For the skin: gels, creams and ointment that contain a Corticosteroid to reduce the inflammation.


For mouth sores: Special mouth washes with Corticosteroid to reduce the pain and associated discomfort.

For the eyes: Eye drops with Corticosteroid to relieve pain and redness in the eye.


Coping with Behcet's syndrome


  • Take ample rest in between flares.
  • Pay attention to diet and exercise.
  • Find support groups and connect.
  • Login to American Behcet's Disease Association.
  • Read message boards and engage in chat sessions.

Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy allows the doctor to look into the interior lining of the large intestine. Through this procedure, the doctor is able to detect inflamed tissue, abnormal growths, polyps, tumors and ulcers. Early signs of cancer in the colon and the rectum can also be detected through colonoscopy. This procedure is also used to study unexplained changes in bowel habits, to evaluate symptoms of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and sudden weight loss. The colonoscope is a thin flexible instrument whose length ranges from 48 inches to 72 inches. A small video camera is attached to the colonoscope so that photographic, electronic or videotaped images of the large intestine can be taken. Colonoscope is used to view the entire colon as well as a small portion of the lower small intestine.

The colon should be completely empty for colonoscopy to be thorough and safe. The liquid diet should be clear of any food colorings. It should be fat free. The colonoscope is gradually inserted into the rectum and slowly guided into the colon. The scope transmits an image of the inside of the colon onto a video screen so that the doctor can carefully examine the lining of the colon. The scope blows air into the colon and inflates it so that the doctor has a better view of the colon. During the procedure, the doctor is able to remove abnormal growths like polyp in the colon.

  • Colonoscopy aids the doctor to remove most polyps without abdominal surgery.
  • Colonoscopy is more accurate than a routine x ray to detect polyps, tumors, ulcers and cancers at early stage.
  • Colonoscopy is done most often to investigate and find the cause of blood in the stool, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
  • Certain patients with previous history of polyps or colon cancer, patients with family history of particular malignancies, colon problems are advised to have periodic Colonoscopy because they are at greater risk of polyps or colon cancer.

Virtual colonoscopy: Here the technique that is adopted uses a CAT scan to construct virtual images of the colon. These images are similar to the views of the colon obtained by direct observation through colonoscopy. However, virtual colonoscopy cannot find small polyps which are less than 5 mm in size. These can be seen by the traditional colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy is not as accurate as colonoscopy in finding cancers or pre-malignant lesions that are not protruding. Virtual colonoscopy also cannot remove polyps.


Pyoderma Gangrenosum

Pyoderma gangrenosum is a rare condition with necrotic tissue causing deep and painful ulcers on the skin. Though it can affect any part of the skin, Pyoderma Gangrenosum often develops on the legs. The condition initially starts as small, red blisters and subsequently forms into painful deep and swollen open sores. The exact cause of Pyoderma gangrenosum is not known. However it is associated with dysfunction of immune system in the body. Those who are prone to this condition will have a tendency to develop ulcers at the site of wounds and cuts. People with following underlying conditions are also at the risk of developing Pyoderma Gangrenosum:



Symptoms of Pyoderma Gangrenosum

Large and open ulcer is the most obvious symptom of Pyoderma Gangrenosum. Ulcers are extremely painful and cause weakness in the body. The edge of the ulcer often looks purplish with fluid or pus oozing out of the ulcer.


Diagnosis

There is no specific test that confirms the condition. However few blood tests and a biopsy of the ulcer is usually ordered to decide on the course of treatment. Blood tests are conducted to check for the extent of infection and also for Liver, kidney and thyroid functions. Another blood test called rheumatoid factor test is also performed to assess rheumatoid arthritis, a condition associated with Pyoderma gangrenosum. Skin Biopsy is also carried out to confirm the diagnosis. The wound is swabbed and cultured to examine the bacteria under microscope.


Treatment of Pyoderma Gangrenosum

Pyoderma Gangrenosum requires immediate medical attention as it can progress quickly. Typically, non surgical treatment is followed in treating the condition which involves wound management, topical steroid ointments, oral steroid medications. Prednisolone is the most commonly used steroid medication along with antibiotics such as dapsone and minocycline to treat Pyoderma Gangrenosum. As this condition is believed to be the result of overactive immune system, Immunosuppressants such as ciclosporin, mycophenolate mofetil, and infliximab, are also used in severe cases.

The outlook for Pyoderma Gangrenosum is very positive as the ulcer eventually heals with medication. However, it tends to leave some scarring in the affected area.


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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: March 21, 2019