Mast cells are white blood cells that are activated when the immune system has to fight against a virus or other pathogens. Mast cell diseases are rare disorders that involve either an overproduction of mast cells or having a normal number of mast cells but they become hyper-reactive. Some cases of mast cell disease are inborn while some patients develop the disease in childhood or adulthood.

There are different types of mast cell diseases such as cutaneous mastocytosis, systemic mastocytosis, and mast cell activation syndrome. 

Mast cell diseases affect different parts of the body. Their common symptoms include: 

  • flushing and itching of the skin
  • diarrhea, abdominal pain
  • headaches, tremors, depression and anxiety
  • hypertension or hypotension, palpitations, dizziness

Some subtypes of mast cell disease such as aggressive systemic mastocytosis may cause organ damage. 

A major risk common in mast cell diseases is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction where the patient experiences breathing difficulty, rapid heart beat, sudden drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness among others. 

There is a wide range of things that can trigger a mast cell reaction. Although each patient’s set of triggers may vary, they may include:

  • Sudden temperature changes 
  • Sunlight
  • Smoke
  • Fragrances such as perfumes
  • Infectious diseases
  • Medications such as antibiotics, NSAIDS, and anesthesia
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Certain foods
  • Stress (both emotional and physical)

There is currently no cure for mast cell diseases. Treatments are prescribed to address specific symptoms. These include H1 antihistamines for allergic reactions, H2 antihistamines for gastrointestinal symptoms, and epinephrine for anaphylaxis. 

This month, help spread awareness about mast cell disorders by sharing information about this condition so that people affected by a mast cell disease can have greater chances of getting an early diagnosis and receiving appropriate treatment.

If you or anyone you know is affected by a mast cell disease, we invite you to sign up to our Mast Cell Disorder Support Network.

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