Behcet’s disease is a condition most people have never heard of, and if you look at the statistics, it’s easy to see why. Each year, there are just 20,000 cases reported in the US. That’s approximately .00625 percent.
But the rare nature of the disease makes no difference to those diagnosed. Their condition strikes them in one or multiple parts of the body that we’ll get into in a moment, and it makes life hard to manage while symptoms are in full swing.
In the following article, we’ll be discussing what those symptoms are, where they’re most likely to affect you, and what the specific risk factors are. We’ll also be giving you some helpful tips on how to manage it.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the general description.
Behcet’s Disease Defined
The disease affects some or all of the blood vessels throughout the body. It’s characterized as an inflammation, and that inflammation can produce some pretty gnarly results. For example, you might have an intense pain in your mouth or develop sores, skin lesions, and eye problems.
The disease also may prey on the joints, your nervous system, and digestive tract. Inflammation in any one or several of these areas can sideline you until the inflammation goes down and you can return to some form of normalcy.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about Behcet’s disease is this: the symptoms may come and go, increasing or decreasing or disappearing for years. As a result, you never know when it will hit again, or for how long.
Not good news, although you can at least take some comfort from knowing it is not contagious, and you can’t pass it on to someone else. Nevertheless, it’s severe enough to cause distinct changes in your lifestyle.
For patients that do experience mortality with Behcet’s disease, it generally occurs due to the development of a stroke, aneurysm, or intestinal perforation. Extremely rare, even as this rare disease goes, but the unexpected and painful nature means this isn’t something you want to take lightly.
If you feel you have any of the symptoms we’re about to present and believe them to be a good indication of Behcet’s disease, don’t take any chances.
Get a professional opinion. Your doctor will ask you some questions and make observations. Here are some of the things he or she will be looking for.
How Behcet’s Disease Manifests
The human body features a vast network of blood vessels. Their purpose in comprising your circulatory system is to transport blood flow across the body’s entire internal real estate.
This ensures the heart is working well, and, in its ideal state, will ensure longevity and quality-of-life for a healthy-hearted individual.
Unfortunately, things do not always work out the way they should. And when someone is diagnosed with Behcet’s disease, they’ll certainly feel like that dour little revelation applies to them.
So, without further ado, let’s look at each of the major body regions affected and give a brief breakdown of what Behcet’s disease “looks like” when it is at its worst.
Brain: Behcet’s disease can affect the brain and spinal cord in some pretty terrifying ways. One of the most common is meningitis, but you also may suffer an unexpected stroke or an aneurysm, as previously mentioned, which can prove fatal.
Those fatalities can occur the first time out, too. So you’ll definitely want to do all you can to tamp down the possibilities. That means adhering closely to some of the advice we’re about to share at the end of this piece.
Digestive: Chronic inflammation of the bowels can lead, over time, to a weakening of the overall digestive system, making it weaker and weaker and prone to perforation of the bowel.
Perforation means holes. Holes mean the waste your digestive system is working to eliminate could filter out into your body, causing sepsis to set in. Again, this can prove deadly
Eyes: The eyes are absolutely loaded with blood vessels. An inflammation in this area will naturally cause your vision to weaken. Over time, it can cause complete blindness.
Genitals: Behcet’s disease can affect your social life as well as your mortality and your basic levels of comfort. For starters, getting in “the mood” largely depends on healthy blood flow to the genital region.
Having the disease also may lead to skin lesions in and around that area. The pain and discomfort may put you out of the mood for the night, and the visual of it can put your partner out of the mood.
Joints: Joint inflammation can range from the mildly annoying to debilitating. Inflammation of the joints often is diagnosed as arthritis. And while you might say that’s what is going on here, Behcet’s disease gets “credit” for causing the reaction when it has been diagnosed in a patient.
Mouth: Behcet’s disease that affects the mouth can lead to lesions and swelling, thus taking the joy out of most types of food and drinks. The trauma could cause bad breath and a reluctance to handle basic hygiene since your mouth is in a constant state of pain and scratching a bristly brush across teeth and tongue can only agitate it.
But if you don’t take care of your teeth, you could start losing them. Behcet’s disease will make you more susceptible.
Skin: The disease primarily manifests on the skin in the form of red, painful lesions. According to the Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center, it creates “Pustular skin lesions that resemble acne, but can occur nearly anywhere on the body…; (or), “erythema nodosum: red, tender nodules that usually occur on the legs and ankles but also appear sometimes on the face, neck, or arms.”
And “Unlike erythema nodosum associated with other diseases (which heal without scars), the lesions of Behcet’s disease frequently ulcerate.”
Wherever you get Behcet’s disease, it won’t be an easy day at the office. So how do you prevent it? That’s not entirely possible, but it helps to know risk factors and causes, and that’s exactly what we’ll be dealing with in the next section.
Who Is at Risk, and What Causes It?
The risk factors of Behcet’s disease can come from many directions. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and environmental factors. It also may be handed down genetically from one generation to the next.
Furthermore, there may be an autoimmune deficiency that results in the immune system launching an attack on the body’s healthy cells. This can trigger the vessel inflammation found in Behcet’s.
Here’s a deeper look at the people most likely to get it.
Environment: It is not yet known what the environmental factors are that could cause the disease, but what we do know is that it appears in certain parts of the world more than others.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, the US sees less than 20,000 new diagnoses per year. That’s a very small percentage of the overall population. Meanwhile, the Far East and Middle Eastern countries have greater instances (about 0.4 percent).
Beyond that, not enough research has been done to isolate the key factors within those environments and no correlation has been made between those areas and the spots in the US where the disease is likeliest to occur.
Age: The disease thus far has proven to be no discriminator of persons. It can happen to both men and women. It tends to hone in on people in their 20s and 30s, though it can be prevalent in people on both the younger and older sides of that range.
That said, age is more of a characteristic of the disease than the cause, which, again, is inflammation.
Sex: If you’re a woman and worried about getting Behcet’s disease, you can take a small degree of comfort in knowing that it affects men more, or at least occurs with greater severity in men than women.
Genetics: The HLA-B51 gene has been linked to the disease, but “It must be emphasized that presence of the gene in and of itself is not enough to cause Behcet’s: many people possess the gene, but relatively few develop Behcet’s,” notes Johns Hopkins.
Now that we know what the biggest risk factors are and who’s more likely to get it, let’s look at how doctors determine you’ve got Behcet’s disease.
How It’s Diagnosed
Diagnosis for Behcet’s disease is typically more about elimination than confirmation. Allow us to explain. Doctors don’t run a test that says proof-positive you have Behcet’s because such a test doesn’t exist. What they will do is this.
They’ll test you for other more serious conditions to rule those out. In the meantime, they’ll be looking at the collective symptoms experienced to determine what they are dealing with.
According to the Mayo Clinic, their diagnosis requires mouth sores because “nearly everyone with Behcet’s will have mouth sores at some point” and “this sign is generally necessary for a diagnosis.” Mayo says the criteria for diagnosis requires “mouth sores that have recurred at least three times in 12 months.”
Additionally, you’ll need to exhibit at least two other signs including eye problems and genital or skin sores. Another determiner is the positive pathergy test, which includes puncturing the skin with a sterile needle and checking the reaction 1-2 days later.
While no one wants to be diagnosed with Behcet’s disease, getting that diagnosis can be a bit of a relief because you then have a better idea of what you can do to effectively address it.
In the next section, we’ll be looking at what those various methods consist of, and we’ll be offering a special emphasis on natural medicine and remedies, though you’ll also want to listen to the advice of your doctor. Without further ado, let’s continue.
How to Deal With It Naturally
This article is not meant to stand in for your doctor’s advice and recommendations. We know from experience that the most likely things your doctor will consider are over-the-counter or prescription medications to manage the symptoms.
While these can be effective in doing exactly that, we understand the uneasiness that many of you have with prescription drugs, especially with the staggering opioid overdose statistics.
The good news is you can do a lot of symptom management without having to add another prescription to your medicine cabinet. Let’s look at some of the options.
One of the things you can do to tamp down inflammation like the kind that seizes your blood vessels during a Behcet’s disease outbreak: strenuous exercise.
About 30-45 minutes of heavy exertion each day can keep your body’s immune system on track and give you a chance to avoid many of the symptoms that occur. It may not get rid of them altogether, but it can help with pain management and severity.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Garbage-in, garbage-out. You cannot expect to reduce or eliminate inflammation if you’re constantly putting foods in your body that are designed to agitate it.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are eight ingredients, in particular, that can cause inflammation to occur in the joints. This would likely transfer to blood vessels as well. They are:
- Saturated Fats
- Trans Fats
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids
- Refined Carbs
- MSG, or Monosodium Glutamate
- Gluten and Casein
Yeah, yeah, we know — anything that’s fun and tastes good. Bummer. The good news is there are anti-inflammatory foods that are as tasty and better for you.
Think berries, fish, broccoli, avocados, green tea, mushrooms, peppers, grapes, turmeric, dark chocolate, tomatoes, and cherries.
Eliminate Junk Foods
Let’s go back to the “foods that cause inflammation” list above for some inspiration. Those foods may not necessarily be “junk” — saturated fats come to mind — but having too much of them will certainly lead to trouble and make the risk of triggering an episode every more likely.
And then there are foods like added sugars which are always a bad idea. Just look at a package of Twinkies for proof of that. About 130 calories per cake.
One gram of protein, no fiber. You’re giving those calories away and giving your body nothing to work with, which stresses it out and agitates the immune system.
Aspartame is even worse because at least your body recognizes what sugar is. These “artificial sweeteners” are created chemically in a lab. Your body doesn’t have any purpose at all for aspartame, and that creates an even greater stress on the system.
Bottom line: stay away or limit intake to a very small percentage of your weekly diet.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Poor dental health can be indicative of more severe health issues. When it comes to Behcet’s disease, it can make many of the symptoms worse. Why? Because of the chain reaction that it sets off.
If it manifests through mouth sores, you’re going to feel leery about eating. This affects the body’s energy levels, which means no exercise. Depression. Anxiety. Malnourishment. The body burning through muscle to make up for the lack of fat. It all adds up.
Take Zinc Sulfate
A study on the effect of oral zinc sulfate on those diagnosed with Behcet’s disease found the clinical manifestations index or CMI favored taking zinc sulfate.
The study’s authors write: “In group A (started with zinc sulfate), the mean CMI started to decline directly after the first month of therapy with zinc sulfate to significantly lower levels. After shifting to placebo treatment in the fourth month, the mean of CMI started to rise again gradually but remained significantly lower than levels before therapy for the fourth and fifth months.
In group B (started with placebo), the mean of CMI remained high for the first 3 months. After crossing over to zinc sulfate in the fourth month, the mean of CMI started to decrease after the fourth month.
An inverse correlation between CMI and serum zinc level was found. No side-effects were seen in either group.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, also has proven effective in reducing the inflammation, though you’ll want to go to a TCM practitioner for this and follow the recommended treatment.
Manage Symptoms with Natural Medicines
Teas and the inclusion of herbs and spices in your everyday cooking are recommended if you’re going to fight Behcet’s symptoms naturally. To help, we’ve put together a quick-hits list of a dozen with known anti-inflammatory properties:
- Turmeric: increases antioxidants throughout the body, giving you the ability to fight off sickness and infection much better. Also good for cognition and lowers your risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- White Willow Bark: contains a medicinal component in salicin, which is found in aspirin; also contains flavonoids that possess anti-inflammatory properties that can help heal, relieve pain, and reduce stress.
- Pycnogenol: good for lowering high blood pressure, which can be a telltale sign in the development of heart disease; also may improve fertility and help with erectile dysfunction and chronic venous insufficiency.
- Capsaicin: found as the primary ingredient in cayenne pepper; capsaicin can crank up your metabolism, reduce hunger pains, aid in digestion, relieve pain, and reduce your cancer risk.
- Frankincense: commonly associated with skin care issues, and since Behcet’s disease often attacks the skin through painful swelling and lesions, that makes this custom-made for addressing the problem.
- Resveratrol: found in berries, grapes, and, of course, red wine. Resveratrol can lengthen your lifespan, it can help with anxiety and stress (triggers for inflammation), ease joint pain, and improving the situation with LDL/HDL.
- Rosemary: known primarily for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, rosemary is a good safeguard against disease. It also protects the brain during the aging process, improves cognition, and may even stave off the effects of blindness.
- Cat’s Claw: particularly effective as an anti-inflammatory for dealing with gut issues. Considering the deadliest place for Behcet’s disease to take root is your intestines, this ingredient could actually contribute to the saving of your life.
- Cloves: contains vital nutrients, antioxidants, anti-bacterial qualities, and compounds that may help reduce cancer while improving liver health.
- Cinnamon: also loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components; can help regulate blood sugar, cut risk for heart disease, and assist with the management or prevention of diabetes.
- Ginger: this anti-inflammatory is particularly helpful with inflammation of the joints (aka arthritis), which, if left unchecked, can affect activity levels, how the body metabolizes food and the anxiety and depression that may occur from chronic pain.
- Black Pepper: digestion, cancer, blood pressure, weight loss, diabetes — black pepper is more than just a condiment, it’s a major component of dealing with what ails you.
Some final precautions for dealing with Behcet’s disease: attack the symptoms, yes, but also redesign your lifestyle so you’re not making the types of decisions that require ongoing medicinal assistance.
Incorporate as many natural medicines as you can, and ask your doctor what you can do to ease some of the pains or at least get to the point where you can live with it.
When dealing with natural medicine, side effects are small but present. Usually, it is due to an allergic reaction. Use it as recommended, and remember that more is not necessarily better.
A Final Word About Behcet’s Disease
Behcet’s disease is hard to diagnose and no cure exists thus far. The symptoms can feel unbearable at their worst, and in rare cases, it could bring about death. But what we hope you take from this is that you do have options if diagnosed.
We offer several of these options here at the site. You’re welcome to look around or leave your comments/questions in the response section below.