The immune system is the body’s natural defense system against allergens, germs, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other foreign invaders. Mast cells play an important role in the overall function of the immune system – especially when the body experiences an allergic reaction.
In the presence of an allergen, mast cells release chemicals called mediators – some of which are released immediately, while other releases are delayed. Some of the most common and prominent mediators include cytokines, histamine, bradykinin, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes.
In healthy individuals, mediators help protect and heal the body from infection or disease. Unfortunately, not everyone’s immune system works properly and some might experience higher-than-normal levels of mediators in the blood, which can be harmful to the human body.
So, what is mast cell activation syndrome?
Mast cell activation syndrome, also known as MCAS, is a form of mast cell disease that’s characterized by high levels of mediators. This generally results in recurring allergy symptoms and repeated episodes of anaphylaxis – which are severe, life-threatening allergic reactions.
With MCAS, mast cells release mediators too frequently and it results in frequent allergic reactions. Some of the most common triggers and factors that result in the release of mediators include infections, medication, venom, fragrances, stress, exercise, food, and so much more.
While MCAS awareness is at an all-time high, traditional doctors continue to struggle with the identification and confirmation of the diagnosis. This means there are likely a wide range of individuals living with MCAS, but aren’t being treated for it – which is heartbreaking to imagine.
What Causes Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?
Doctors have learned a lot about mast cell activation syndrome over the past 30 years, since John Oates and Jack Roberts hypothesized the condition in 1991. The condition was finally named in 2007 and diagnostic criteria for the condition was proposed just three years later.
Although we’ve learned a lot about mast cells and how they’re impacted during MCAS, there’s still so much to learn – including what causes the condition. In fact, many researchers refer to MCAS as an idiopathic condition, meaning it’s not caused by another condition or a clear allergy.
And while there are plenty of things that could trigger the condition, many patients have difficulty identifying the exact triggers that result in the repeated episodes and allergic reactions. The most common triggers are medication, animal bites, diet, stress, smoke, and even perfume.
As you can likely imagine, having a hard time identifying the triggers makes MCAS hard to diagnose, hard to treat, and most importantly hard to experience.
Signs & Symptoms of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Much like any other disease or health condition, early detection is essential to receiving proper treatment and relief. In order to achieve that, you must have a deep understanding of the signs and symptoms of mast cell activation syndrome – that way, you can catch it when it comes.
Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent allergic and non-allergic symptoms that those living with MCAS experience often:
- Swelling and inflammation
- Itching, rashes, and flushing
- Chronic pain
- Fatigue, fainting, and headaches
- Diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting
- Sweats, rising heart beat, and low blood pressure
Some of the most common signs of MCAS include having symptoms in several different symptoms at once, having symptoms that come and go, having multiple different triggers, having a hard time pinpointing the exact triggers, and having a dramatic change in symptoms.
Treatment Options Available for MCAS
In order to receive proper treatment for MCAS, your doctor must first properly diagnose the condition – which is much harder than you’d think. Since a lot of MCAS symptoms mimic the symptoms of other conditions, MCAS is often misdiagnosed and therefore mistreated.
With that said, there are several things your doctor will look for when diagnosing MCAS. First, they’ll analyze and monitor your symptoms. Then, they’ll look at the tryptase, histamine, or prostaglandins levels in your blood. Then, they’ll use medication to see if symptoms remain.
While there’s no cure for MCAS, there are ways to treat it. The most effective forms of treatment include medication and avoiding triggers, if you can identify what those triggers are. Medication includes first-generation and second-generation H1 blockers, H2 blockers, aspirin, and more.
In addition to that, your doctor will recommend lifestyle and habitual changes to help you avoid certain triggers. They’ll help you find balance through proper diet, sleep patterns, exercise, and stress management. They may also give you an epinephrine pen for anaphylactic reactions.
MCAS vs. Mastocytosis
We know that mast cell activation syndrome, also known as mast cell activation disease or mast cell activation disorder, is one of the mast cell disorders, but it’s not the only disease grouped into this category. In fact, many people today confuse MCAS with another mast cell disease called mastocytosis.
Where mast cell activation syndrome is characterized by an abnormal amount of mast cell mediators being released by mast cells, mastocytosis is characterized by too many mast cells gathering around certain organ systems. These cells result in random chemical releases that harm the organs.
In addition to high levels of mast cells forming around the organs, they can also be present in the skin. Mastocytosis is generally broken down into three different categories – cutaneous mastocytosis (CM), systemic mastocytosis (SM), and mast cell sarcoma.
Contact Dr. Hagmeyer Today to Learn More!
Mast cell activation syndrome is a real medical disease that requires immediate attention and constant monitoring. While it’s a difficult condition to diagnose, especially for most traditional doctors that only treat symptoms, it can be done with the right patient-doctor relationship.
At Dr. Hagmeyer, we understand how frustrating and damaging living with MCAS can be. It not only impacts your immune system but your entire body as a whole. If not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner, the patient will struggle to live a happy, healthy, and rewarding life.
If you’re experiencing any MCAS symptoms, are looking for relief from MCAS symptoms, or believe you might have mast cell activation syndrome, contact Dr. Hagmeyer today for a free 15-minute consultation. Together, we can help you find relief from this horrible disease.