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What are the symptoms of Behçet's syndrome?

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Behçet's has a wide range of possible symptoms, but most people only have a few of these.

Some of the symptoms of Behçet's syndrome

Mouth ulcers

About 98% of people with Behçet's syndrome have frequent mouth ulcers. They can affect the mouth, tongue and throat, and are often painful. Sometimes there are many tiny ulcers clustered together. If you only have occasional mouth ulcers, it's very unlikely that you have Behçet's. This is true even if you have a relative who has the condition.

Genital ulcers

Women and girls may get ulcers on the vulva, in the vagina or on the cervix. Men and boys may get ulcers on the scrotum and the penis. Some men and boys also have pain or swelling in the testicles. Ulcers and boils may appear around the anus and in the groin.

Neither mouth nor genital ulcers in Behçet's syndrome are caused by the herpes virus. They're not sexually transmitted or contagious, so you can't catch them from someone else.

Skin problems

Skin problems can include:

  • acne-like spots
  • boils
  • red patches
  • ulcers
  • spots that look like insect-bites
  • lumps under the skin.

The skin may become inflamed, ulcerated or appear to be infected.

Eye inflammation

Inflammation within the eye is one of the most serious symptoms of Behçet's syndrome. The inflammation may be at the front or back of the eye, around the iris or next to the retina. It must be treated as soon as possible to avoid possible loss of sight.

If you have Behçet's syndrome and you develop new eye symptoms go straight to the emergency department of an eye hospital, or a general Accident and Emergency department.

Symptoms can include:

  • floaters (dots or specks that appear to float across your field of vision)
  • haziness or loss of vision
  • pain
  • redness in your eye.

Areas of the eye that can be inflamed by Behçet's syndrome

Tiredness (fatigue)

Extreme tiredness (fatigue) is a very common symptom.

Joint problems

You may have aches, pains and swelling in various joints. These problems may come and go or they may be longer lasting. This sort of joint problem isn't the same as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis and doesn't usually damage the joints.

Problems with the nervous system

Many people have bad headaches. These may be caused by inflammation and you may need tests, but the headaches by themselves aren't usually a sign of anything serious. The headaches often respond to the same treatments that doctors give to people with migraine.

Occasionally Behçet’s causes other symptoms such as:

  • double vision
  • difficulty hearing
  • dizziness
  • loss of balance
  • fainting
  • weakness or numbness in the arms or legs.

Some people with Behçet's also experience depression.

Bowel problems

Many people with Behçet's syndrome have bloating, excessive wind and abdominal pain. Behçet's sometimes causes inflammation of the bowel, leading to diarrhoea, with blood and mucus in the stools.

Blood clots (thrombosis)

Inflamed blood vessels can increase the risk of blood clots (thrombosis), but these aren't the type which cause heart attacks. Veins near the skin's surface become painful, hot and red when they're affected, and thrombosis in deeper veins leads to pain and swelling of the affected limb. The legs are affected more often than the arms. Thrombosis can occur in the blood vessels of your head, lungs or other internal organs, but this is rare.

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