Behcet Syndrome Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jan 05, 2018
  • Author: C Egla Rabinovich, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Lawrence K Jung, MD  more...
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Two sets of criteria are commonly used for diagnosis of Behçet syndrome: an international criteria for Behçet syndrome, derived in 1990, and the O'Duffy criteria. Both sets of criteria may be too stringent for application in children who have lower risk for oral or genital ulcerations from other causes. In addition, these criteria have not been validated in children.

  • The international criteria include recurrent oral ulcerations, plus 2 of the following:

    • Recurrent genital ulcerations

    • Eye lesions

      • Anterior uveitis

      • Posterior uveitis

    • Cells in the vitreous

    • Retinal vasculitis

    • Skin lesions

      • Erythema nodosum

      • Pseudofolliculitis

      • Papulopustular lesions

      • Acneiform nodules (in a postadolescent patient not taking corticosteroids)

    • Positive pathergy test

  • The O'Duffy criteria require the presence of recurrent aphthous ulcerations, plus any 2 of following:

  • Oral ulceration, the hallmark of this disease, is usually the initial clinical symptom and can precede other manifestations by years. Ulcers are typically painful, appear in crops, and are nonscarring. For diagnostic purposes, at least 3 episodes in a 12-month period are required. In one study of pediatric Behçet syndrome, the average time interval between the initial oral ulceration and the second manifestation was 8.8 years.

  • Genital ulcers appear in the vulva and vagina in females and scrotum and penis in men. Ulcers are painful, recurring, and scarring.

  • Ocular manifestations may be asymptomatic initially, or may present quite dramatically with hypopyon uveitis. Patients may report blurred vision, eye pain, photophobia, increased lacrimation, and erythematous conjunctiva. [7, 8]

  • Skin manifestations are nonspecific and include erythema nodosum, folliculitis, and pustular rash.

  • Arthralgias and arthritis can occur in small or large joints. Sacroiliitis has been described in HLA-B27–positive patients.

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms are common and include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and melena. Perforation may occur.

  • CNS involvement may occur in up to 25% of children and is the most severe manifestation of the disease. Patients with meningoencephalitis present with headache and stiff neck; focal neurological abnormalities can also be observed. Neuropsychiatric symptoms include hallucinations and personality changes. Other features that have been described include brainstem lesions; pseudotumor cerebri; cranial nerve palsies; and pyramidal, extrapyramidal, and cerebellar symptoms.

  • Vascular manifestations are varied and depend on the type and location of the vessel involved. The most common vascular complaints are secondary to venous thrombosis, often of the superficial veins. [9, 10] This can occur after venipuncture. Patients who develop superficial thrombophlebitis are more at risk than other patients with Behçet syndrome for the development of deep vein thrombosis and arterial disease. Well-known syndromes of large venous occlusions, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome or superior vena-caval syndrome, may occur. Patients with cerebral venous thrombosis develop signs and symptoms of increased intracranial pressure, such as headache and visual blurring. Arterial occlusions may present with symptoms related to ischemia. Cigarette smoking may be a risk factor for arterial disease in Behçet syndrome.

  • Pulmonary manifestations include pulmonary vasculitis and pulmonary arterial aneurysm formation; patients may present with hemoptysis, dyspnea, chest pain, or cough.

  • Studies have found that fatigue is common in clinically active Behcet's syndrome patients compared with healthy controls and inactive BS patients. The study also noted that depression, anxiety and physical dysfunction were significantly associated with fatigue. [11, 12]



See the list below:

  • Physical findings vary, reflecting the disease manifestations in a particular patient.

    • Oral ulcerations: Ulcers are typically 2-15 mm in diameter, with a necrotic center and surrounding red rim. A white or yellow pseudomembrane covers the surface of the ulcer. The ulcers are typically painful, nonscarring, and found on the lips, buccal mucosa, tongue, tonsils, and larynx. Most last 7-14 days and occur in crops.

    • Genital ulcerations: These typically occur less often than the oral ulcerations. The ulcers occur on the scrotum and vulva, are painful and heal with scarring, especially on the scrotum. Genital ulcerations tend to be deeper and larger than the oral lesions. Females can have asymptomatic ulcers, especially in the vagina.

    • Ocular manifestations: Uveitis can occur in both the anterior and posterior chambers of the eye. [13] Frank pus (hypopyon) may be observed in the anterior chamber. Retinal vasculitis is the most serious ocular finding. Vaso-occlusive lesions of the retinal vessels may cause a progressive decreased visual acuity. A slit lamp examination is necessary for diagnosis of uveitis, and fluorescein angiography is useful to identify retinal lesions.

    • Skin manifestations: Erythema nodosum lesions typically occur on the extremities, especially the lower legs, but they can also be observed on the face, neck, and buttocks. The lesions are painful and resolve spontaneously, although some may ulcerate or leave hyperpigmentation. A folliculitislike rash, resembling acne vulgaris, appears on the face, neck, chest, back, and hairline of patients. Some lesions become more pustular; 24-48 hours after a sterile needle prick, some patients develop erythema with a nodule or pustule at the prick site. This pathergy response is commonly observed in patients from Asia and the Middle East and is uncommon in northern European and North American patients.

    • Skeletal involvement: Monoarthritis or polyarthritis occurs in at least 50% of patients. Knees are the most commonly affected joints, followed by wrists, ankles, and elbows. The arthritis is typically nonerosive.

    • GI manifestations: In addition to the oral mucosa, ulcerative lesions may occur anywhere in the GI tract. Most commonly, ulcers occur in the ileocecal region. Other involved areas include the transverse and ascending colon and the esophagus. Anticoagulation is controversial in patients with Behçet syndrome because of the risk of bleeding from one of these ulcers.

    • CNS involvement: CNS involvement occurs in as many as 25% of patients and may be the most serious manifestation of disease. The immune-mediated meningoencephalitis that is most commonly seen predominantly involves the brainstem. Dural venous sinus thrombosis is less common. Findings may include meningitis, encephalitis, focal neurological deficits, and psychiatric symptoms. The CNS lesions may have exacerbations and remissions. In some patients, irreversible dementia ultimately results.

  • Vascular involvement

    • Venous involvement includes migratory superficial thrombophlebitis of the skin and deep venous thrombosis. Patients with lower extremity deep vein thrombosis may have distal edema. With chronic venous occlusion, collateral circulation may develop.

    • Arteritis may involve the aorta or its branches and lead to aneurysm formation. Rupture of aneurysms may be fatal. Pulmonary artery involvement may result in aneurysm formation with pulmonary artery–to–bronchus fistula formation and resultant hemoptysis. Aneurysm formation carries a worse prognosis than occlusive disease. Patients with pulmonary aneurysms often have extrapulmonary vascular complications, such as superficial or deep vein thrombosis.

    • Cardiac valves may develop vegetations with subsequent emboli. Clinically, these lesions are similar to bacterial endocarditis, but cultures are negative, and round cell infiltration is most typically observed on histology. Right ventricular thrombi may also develop, and are frequently found in patients with pulmonary aneurysms.

    • Nephrotic syndrome and kidney amyloidosis have rarely been described in patients with Behçet syndrome.

  • Muscular involvement: Myositis has been described in pediatric Behçet syndrome.



See the list below:

  • The etiology of Behçet syndrome is unknown. Behçet syndrome is thought to be caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. The HLA-B51 allele (one of the split antigens of B5) is commonly found in patients from Asia and the Middle East, yet it is rarely found in northern European and North American patients. Infections may play a pathogenic role, as patients who have Behçet syndrome have a higher incidence of antibodies to herpes simplex virus, hepatitis C virus, and parvovirus B19. Streptococcal antigens have also been implicated; a trial of prophylactic penicillin treatment decreased the number of acute arthritis episodes in patients with Behçet syndrome.

  • Patients who have a parent with Behçet syndrome have disease onset at a younger age (genetic anticipation). In addition, pediatric patients are more likely to have a family history of Behçet syndrome, compared to patients with disease onset as an adult.