Mast cells are an essential part of your immune system. They reside in our bone marrow and blood vessels. Mast cells produce mediators that can adapt to different threats that occur in the body. For instance, it is mast cell mediators that send blood to an injury to cause inflammation – inflammation aids the body’s recovery from injury or infection.
It works in a similar way to allergies and allergic reactions. It’s mast cell mediators that produce the histamine required to sneeze when you’ve reacted to dust or some other allergy.
Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) occurs when there are too many mediators being produced at any one time. There are two similar conditions. MCAS occurs when too many mediators are produced too quickly and too often. Mastocytosis occurs when your body produces too many mast cells.
- If you have MCAS you may be experiencing all or some of the following conditions:
- Skin conditions like itching; hives; sweating
- Itch and watery eyes and nose compounded by sneezing and a runny nose.
- Some swelling in your tongue and lips.
- Swelling in your mouth and throat may block air getting to your lungs.
- Low blood pressure and a rapid heart rate
- Stomach and intestinal pain that causes cramping, diarrhea, nausea and pain.
- Headaches; dizziness; spells of confusion and tiredness.
The worst cases may experience anaphylactic shock and require immediate emergency treatment. That includes a rapid drop in your blood pressure; a weak pulse; a narrowing of the airways and passage to the lungs. After such episodes you should be prescribed and instructed in the use of an epipen.
Little is known about MCAS and why some people are susceptible. Around 74% of people with MCAS have a family connection to the disorder. Other triggers are hyperplasia which is a rare condition associated with cancer and some infections. Hormonal changes related to a woman’s menstrual cycle is another.
There are allergic triggers bought on by some foods or environmental allergens. Others are medications like ibuprofen; antibiotics and opiate type pain relievers.
MCAS diagnosis can be difficult. Often you have to take a blood or urine test resulting from an episode. It may be necessary to eliminate or avoid certain triggers like food or environmental factors. Mast cell disease treatment will depend largely on what’s found. You may need to take antihistamines to counter the production of histamines which is one of the main mediators. Mast cell stabilisers may even be required to reduce the number of mediators produced. With a proper diagnosis from a mast cell activation syndrome doctor who has a special interest in – mast cell activation syndrome symptoms, you can learn about the triggers and significantly reduce the frequency of episodes.