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Treatment of Behcet's Disease is symptomatic and typically focuses on reducing discomfort and preventing serious complications. Corticosteroids and other immunosuppressants may be prescribed to treat inflammation. Patients may experience periods of time when symptoms go away temporarily (remission). The severity of the disease varies from patient to patient.
Behçet’s disease affects different parts of the body, therefore, patients may have to be treated by different doctors. Coordinated care is important. A primary care physician can coordinate treatment and monitor medications.
A rheumatologist (a doctor specializing in arthritis and other inflammatory disorders) often manages a patient's treatment and treats joint disease. Other specialists may treat symptoms that affect other areas affected by Behcet's Disease. Specialists may include:
- Gynecologist-treats genital sores in women
- Urologist-treats genital sores in men
- Dermatologist-treats genital sores in men and women, and skin and mucous membrane problems
- Ophthalmologist-treats eye inflammation
- Gastroenterologist-treats digestive tract symptoms
- Hematologist-treats disorders of the blood
- Neurologist-treats central nervous system symptoms
Although there is no cure for Behçet's disease, patients can control symptoms with proper medication, rest, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. The goal of treatment is to reduce discomfort and prevent serious complications such as disability from arthritis or blindness. The type of medicine and the length of treatment depend on the symptoms and their severity. It is likely that a combination of medicines will be needed to relieve specific symptoms. Patients should tell each of their doctors about all of the medicines they are taking so that the doctors can coordinate treatment and care.
Topical medicine is applied directly on the sores to relieve pain and discomfort. For example, doctors prescribe rinses, gels, or ointments. Creams are used to treat skin and genital sores. The medicine usually contains corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation), other anti-inflammatory drugs, or an anesthetic, which relieves pain.
Doctors also prescribe medicines taken by mouth to reduce inflammation throughout the body, suppress the overactive immune system, and relieve symptoms. Doctors may prescribe one or more of the medicines described below to treat the various symptoms of Behçet's disease. The treatment of Behçet's syndrome depends on the severity and the location of its manifestations in an individual patient.
Steroid (cortisone) gels, pastes (such as Kenalog in Orabase) and creams can be helpful for the mouth and genital ulcers. Colchicine can also minimize recurrent ulcerations. Mouth and genital ulcers healed and were reported at a national meeting of the American College of Rheumatology as less frequent in 9 or 12 patients who were treated with Trental (pentoxifylline). Trental also seemed to maintain the healed ulcers for up to the 29 months of the study. The effectiveness of Trental, the researchers said, seemed to be enhanced by the combination with colchicine in some patients.
Joint inflammation can require non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen and others) or oral steroids. Colchicine and oral and injectable cortisone are used for inflammation involving the joints, eyes, skin, and brain. Sulfasalazine has been effective in some patients for arthritis.
- Corticosteroids - Prednisone is a corticosteroid prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body for people with severe joint pain, skin sores, eye disease, or central nervous system symptoms. Patients must carefully follow the doctor's instructions about when to take prednisone and how much to take. It also is important not to stop taking the medicine suddenly, because the medicine alters the body's production of the natural corticosteroid hormones. Long-term use of prednisone can have side effects such as osteoporosis (a disease that leads to bone fragility), weight gain, delayed wound healing, persistent heartburn, and elevated blood pressure. However, these side effects are rare when prednisone is taken at low doses for a short time. It is important that patients see their doctor regularly to monitor possible side effects. Corticosteroids are useful in early stages of disease and for acute severe flares. They are of limited use for long-term management of central nervous system and serious eye complications.
- Immunosuppressive drugs - These medicines (in addition to corticosteriods) help control an overactive immune system, which occurs in Behçet's disease, and reduce inflammation throughout the body, and can lessen the number of disease flares. Doctors may use immunosuppressive drugs when a person has eye disease or central nervous system involvement. These medicines are very strong and can have serious side effects. Patients must see their doctor regularly for blood tests to detect and monitor side effects.
Doctors may use one or more of the following drugs depending on the person's specific symptoms.
- Azathioprine (Imuran) - Classified as an immunosuppressant medication, azathioprine is used to suppress the immune system in patients who have received kidney transplants. Although its exact mechanism of action in rheumatoid arthritis is not known, its effect in suppressing the immune system appears to decrease the activity of the illness. Most commonly prescribed for patients with organ transplants because it suppresses the immune system, azathioprine is now used for Behçet's Disease to treat uveitis and other uncontrolled disease manifestations. This medicine can upset the stomach and may reduce production of new blood cells by the bone marrow.
- Chlorambucil - Doctors may use these drugs to treat uveitis and meningoencephalitis. Patients taking either agent must see their doctor frequently because of the possibility ofserious side effects such as permanent sterility and cancers of the blood. Patients are required to have regular blood tests to monitor blood counts of white cells and platelets.
- Colchicine - Commonly used to treat gout, which is a form of arthritis, colchicine reduces inflammation throughout the body. The medicine sometimes is used to treat arthritis, mucous membrane symptoms and skin symptoms in patients with Behçet's Disease. A research study in Turkey suggested that the medication works best for males with the disorder. Common side effects of colchicine include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The dose may be decreased by the doctor to relieve side effects.
- Cyclophosphamide - Drug used primarily for the treatment of several types of cancer. In order to work, cyclophosphamide is initially converted by the liver into two chemicals, acrolein and phosphoramide. Acrolein and phosphoramide are active compounds and they slow the growth of cancer cells by interfering with the actions of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) within the cancerous cells. It is, therefore, referred to as a cytotoxic drug. Unfortunately, normal cells also are affected, and this results in serious side effects. Cytoxan also suppresses the immune system and is referred to as immunosuppressive.
- Cyclosporine - Like azathioprine,it is prescribed for patients with organ transplants. When used by patients with Behçet's disease, cyclosporine reduces uveitis and uncontrolled disease in other organs. To reduce the risk of side effects such as kidney and liver disease, doctors can adjust the dose. Patients must tell their physician about other medications they are currently taking becauseother medicines affect the way the body uses cyclosporine.
- Enbrel (Etanetcept) - Etanercept is an injectable drug that blocks tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha). It is used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. TNF alpha is a protein produced by the body during the inflammatory response as the body's reaction to injury. TNF alpha.promotes the inflammation and has been associated with fever, pain, tenderness, and swelling in several inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Etanercept is a synthetic (man-made) protein that binds to TNF alpha. It thereby acts like a sponge to remove most of the TNF alpha molecules from the joints and blood. This prevents TNF alpha from promoting inflammation and the fever, pain, tenderness and swelling of joints in patients with rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Etanercept reduces the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, the arthritis of psoriasis, and ankylosing spondylitis. It prevents the progressive destruction of the joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the arthritis of psoriasis.
- Interferon - Multiple substances naturally produced by cells in the body to help fight infections and tumors. They may also be synthetic (man-made) versions of these substances. Alpha interferons, such as Roferon-A, Intron-A, and Alferon-N, are used to treat hairy cell leukemia, malignant melanoma, and AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. They are also used to treat laryngeal papillomatosis (growths in the respiratory tract) in children, genital warts, and some kinds of hepatitis. Gamma interferon, like Actimmune, is a synthetic (man-made) version of a substance naturally produced by cells in the body to help fight infections and tumors. Gamma interferon is used to treat chronic granulomatous disease and osteopetrosis. Interferon beta-1a, like Avonex and Rebif, is used to treat the relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and genital warts. This medicine will not cure MS, but may slow some disabling effects and decrease the number of relapses of the disease. Interferon beta-1b, such as Betaseron, is also used to treat the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS). Again, this medicine will not cure MS, but may decrease the number of relapses of the disease. There are no generic forms of Interferon available.
- Kenalog (Triamcinolone) - A topical steroid which reduces or inhibits the actions of chemicals in the body that cause inflammation, redness, and swelling. It is used to treat the inflammation caused by a number of conditions such as allergic reactions, eczema and psoriasis.
- Methotrexate - Methotrexate is classified as an antimetabolite drug, which means it is capable of blocking the metabolism of cells. It has been found very helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis. It seems to work by altering aspects of immune function which may play a role in causing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Prednisone - is an oral, synthetic (man-made) corticosteroid used for suppressing the immune system and inflammation. It has effects similar to other corticosteroids such as triamcinolone (Kenacort), methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisolone (Prelone) and dexamethasone (Decadron). These synthetic corticosteroids mimic the action of cortisol (hydrocortisone), the naturally-occurring corticosteroid produced in the body by the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids have many effects on the body, but they most often are used for their potent anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in those conditions in which the immune system plays an important role. Such conditions include arthritis, colitis, asthma, bronchitis, certain skin rashes, and allergic or inflammatory conditions of the nose and eyes. Prednisone is inactive in the body and, in order to be effective, first must be converted to prednisolone by enzymes in the liver. Therefore, prednisone may not work as effectively in people with liver disease whose ability to convert prednisone to prednisolone is impaired.
- Remicade (Infliximab) - Infliximab is an injectable antibody that blocks the effects of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). By blocking the action of TNF-alpha, infliximab reduces the signs and symptoms of inflammation. This medication is administered via an IV-infusion.
- Sulfasalazine - a prodrug, that is, it is not active in its ingested form. It is broken down by bacteria in the colon into two products: 5-aminosalicylic acid (5ASA), and sulfapyridine. There is some controversy as to which of these two products are responsible for the activity of azulfidine. Whereas it is known that 5ASA has therapeutic benefit, it is not clear whether sulfapyridine adds any further benefit. In the colon, the products created by the breakdown of sulfasalazine work as anti-inflammatory agents for treating inflammation of the colon. The beneficial effect of sulfasalazine is believed to be due to a local effect on the bowel, although there may also be a beneficial systemic immune-suppressant effect as well. Following oral administration, 33% of the sulfasalazine is absorbed, all of the sulfapyridine is absorbed, and about 33% of the 5ASA is absorbed. Sulfasalazine was approved by the FDA in 1950.
- CellCept - contains the active ingredient mycophenolate mofetil. Cellcept belongs to a group of medicines called immunosuppressants. Immunosuppressants are used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, and work by stopping your immune system from reacting to the transplanted organ. Cellcept may be used together with other medicines known as cyclosporin and corticosteroids.
- Thalidomide - Thalidomide is an oral medication used for treating the skin conditions of leprosy, a disease caused by a parasite, Mycobacterium leprae. The mechanism of action of thalidomide is not well understood. The immune system reaction to Mycobacterium leprae plays an important role in producing the skin manifestations of leprosy. Scientists believe that thalidomide modifies the reaction of the immune system to Mycobacterium leprae and thereby suppresses the skin reaction. Thalidomide also is being evaluated as a treatment for HIV. Thalidomide was approved by the FDA in July, 1998.
- Trental (Pentoxifylline) - Decreases the "stickiness" (viscosity) of blood and thereby improves its flow. This increase blood flow an helps patients with peripheral arterial disease to obtain better circulation and oxygen delivery to vital tissues. Pentoxifylline is used in patients to treat a codndition of painful legs that develop with exercise because of inadequate circulation to the legs and feet.
- Combination Treatment - Cyclosporine is sometimes used together with azathioprine when one medication fails to work by itself. A common combination is prednisone along with an immunosuppressive drug.
Rest and Exercise
Although rest is important during flares, doctors usually recommend moderate exercise, such as swimming or walking, when the symptoms have improved or disappeared. Exercise can help people with Behçet's disease keep their joints strong and flexible.
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