Diagnosing Behcet’s Syndrome

Behcet’s syndrome is a rare immune system disorder that causes inflammation in various parts of the body. Behcet’s syndrome is considered a type of vasculitis. It causes inflammation of blood vessels of nearly all sizes and types, including arteries and veins.

People with Behcet’s syndrome have recurrent, painful ulcers in the mouth and sometimes throughout the gastrointestinal tract, often accompanied by sores on the genitals, eye inflammation, and skin disease. Eye disease due to Behcet’s can lead to blindness if untreated.

Rarely, people with the condition can also have aneurysms—balloon-like bulges in the wall of the blood vessels that can burst and cause serious, even life-threatening, bleeding—in the arteries of the lungs or in other blood vessels. Pain and swelling in the joints called arthralgia may also occur.

Behcet’s syndrome typically affects people of Middle Eastern and Far East Asian descent. Men and women of all age groups may be affected, but the condition tends to develop in people in their 20s or 30s; the disease is often more serious in men than in women.

Behcet’s syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms often don’t appear all at once and can be similar to those of other illnesses. Rheumatologists, doctors who treat arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones, at NYU Langone’s Behcet’s Syndrome Center—the only one of its kind in North America—are experts at diagnosing this condition and developing treatment plans.

NYU Langone doctors perform a physical exam to look for signs of Behcet’s syndrome, such as mouth ulcers, skin lesions, eye inflammation, or genital sores. They ask questions about your medical history to obtain a complete picture of your health and determine if your symptoms are related to Behcet’s syndrome.

A person may be diagnosed with Behcet’s syndrome when he or she has mouth sores at least 3 times in 12 months and any 2 of the following: genital sores, eye inflammation, certain skin lesions, or a positive pathergy or “skin prick” test, in which a doctor sticks the forearm with a tiny needle and looks for a small red bump to form within a day or two.

Before making a definite diagnosis of Behcet’s syndrome, a doctor rules out other diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, that can show similar or identical signs and symptoms.

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