Mast cell disease fact sheet

Mast Cell Disease

  • Mast cell disease includes all forms of disease in which your body makes too many mast cells or those mast cells do not function correctly.
  • Mast cell disease is rare, affecting less than 200,000 people in the US.
  • 90% of mast cell disease only affects the skin (edited to add: based upon estimates of mastocytosis population – counts of MCAS/MCAD not yet available).
  • The remaining 10% is systemic disease.
  • Multiple people in a family sometimes have mast cell disease, but the heritable gene has not been identified.
  • Cutaneous and systemic mastocytosis, mast cell sarcoma and mast cell leukemia are proliferative, meaning your body makes too many mast cells.
  • Mast cell activation syndrome/mast cell activation disorder are not proliferative, meaning there is a normal amount of mast cells behaving badly.
  • Monoclonal mast cell activation syndrome is borderline for proliferation, meaning the body is thinking about making too many mast cells or is just starting to.
  • The biggest risk for most mast cell patients is anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can be triggered by many things.
  • There is no cure for mast cell disease, but children sometimes grow out of it for unknown reasons.

Types of mast cell disease

  • Cutaneous mastocytosis (CM) is too many mast cells in the skin.
    • This causes rashes (sometimes permanent), hiving and blistering.
    • Urticaria pigmentosa (UP), telangiectasia macularis eruptive perstans (TMEP) and diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis (DCM) are the types of cutaneous mastocytosis. (Edited to include DCM.)
    • It is diagnosed by skin biopsy.
    • You can also have mast cell symptoms that aren’t related to the skin, like nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache, palpitations, etc.
    • Solitary mastocytoma is a benign mast cell tumor usually found on the skin, but sometimes elsewhere. It is sometimes included in the cutaneous mastocytosis category.
    • Children sometimes outgrow cutaneous mastocytosis.
    • When adults develop cutaneous mastocytosis, they usually also have systemic mastocytosis.
  • Systemic mastocytosis is too many mast cells in an organ that is not the skin.
    • The bone marrow is usually where too many mast cells are found, but it is sometimes found in other organs.
    • You can have systemic mastocytosis with or without cutaneous mastocytosis.
    • It is diagnosed by biopsy of an organ other than skin. Other testing like scans and organ tests may be necessary.
    • Indolent systemic mastocytosis (ISM) is stable with no organ damage. Life span is normal.
    • Smoldering systemic mastocytosis (SSM) is progressing towards a more damaging form with some signs that organ damage is beginning. Life span may be shortened if progression is not controlled.
    • Aggressive systemic mastocytosis (ASM) is a dangerous form with organ damage that requires chemotherapy to control. Life span is shorter.
    • Mast cell leukemia (MCL) is a malignant form with organ damage that requires chemotherapy. Life span is significantly reduced.
    • Mast cell sarcoma(MCS) is a malignant form with organ damage that requires chemotherapy. Life span is significantly reduced.
  • Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS)/ Mast cell activation disorder (MCAD) is when a normal amount of mast cells behave badly. (Edited to change mast cell activation disease to mast cell activation disorder.)
    • It is clinically similar to indolent systemic mastocytosis. Life span is normal.
    • Biopsies are negative.
  • Monoclonal mast cell activation syndrome (MMAS) is when a person meets some of the criteria for systemic mastocytosis but not all. It indicates the mast cells are starting to think about abnormal proliferation.
    • It is clinically similar to indolent systemic mastocytosis. Life span is normal.
    • Biopsies are positive for one or two minor criteria for systemic mastocytosis.

Symptoms

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Skin
    • Flushing is one of the hallmark signs of mast cell disease
    • Other skin symptoms include rashes, hives, itching, angioedema, dermatographism
  • Gastrointestinal
    • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, swelling of GI tract, difficulty swallowing
  • Neurologic
    • Headache, migraine, feeling faint, numbness, pins and needles, tremors, tics, neuropathy
  • Psychiatric
    • Depression, anxiety, memory difficulties, insomnia, sleep disorders*
  • Cardiovascular
    • Weakness, dizziness, high or low blood pressure, slow or rapid heartbeat, abnormal heart rhythm, chest pain, palpitations

*Edited to add: Psychiatric symptoms are organic symptoms of mast cell disease, rather than reactive conditions from chronic illness.

This list is not exhaustive.

Triggers

  • Many things can cause mast cell reactions or anaphylaxis in mast cell patients.
  • Allergy testing (skin prick or blood testing) is inaccurate in mast cell patients as these tests assess IgE allergies and mast cell patients often have non-IgE reactions.
  • Triggers can change over time and can include:
    • Heat, cold, or rapid change in temperature
    • Friction, especially on the skin
    • Sunlight
    • Illness, such as viral or bacterial infection
    • Exercise
    • Many foods, especially high histamine foods
    • Many preservatives and dyes
    • Many medications
    • Scents and fragrances
    • Physical stress, such as surgery
    • Emotional or psychological stress

Diagnosis: Blood and Urine Testing

  • Blood test: Serum tryptase
    • This tests for the total amount of mast cells in the body, the “mast cell burden”
    • Should be tested during a non-reactive period for baseline and during a reaction
    • Time sensitive: should be tested 1-4 hours after start of reaction
    • Normal range for adults is under 11 ng/ml. (Edited to remove out of place words “is abnormal” at the end of this statement)
    • 2 ng/ml + 2% increased from baseline is indicative of mast cell activation
    • Baseline over 20 ng/ml is a minor criteria for diagnosis systemic mastocytosis
  • 24 hour urine tests:
    • N-methylhistamine
      • Breakdown product of histamine
      • Released by mast cells when reacting
      • Very temperature sensitive
      • Sample must be refrigerated and transported on ice (unless preservative is provided)
      • Measured as a ratio of another molecule, creatinine
      • Normal range for adults is 30-200 mcg/g creatinine
      • One study found that if level was 300 mcg/g creatinine, a bone marrow biopsy was likely to be positive for systemic mastocytosis
    • D2 prostaglandin and 9a,11b-F2 prostaglandin
      • Released by mast cells when reacting
      • Very temperature sensitive
      • Sample must be refrigerated and transported on ice (unless preservative is provided)
      • Normal range for both is under 1000 ng
      • 9a,11b-F2 prostaglandin is a breakdown product of D2 prostaglandin
      • 9a,11b-F2 prostaglandin is the marker for which MCAS/MCAD patients are most often positive
      • If taking aspirin or NSAIDs, these may be discontinued five days before the test or as directed by your physician
      • Other tests sometimes done in blood include heparin, histamine, prostaglandin D2 and chromogranin A.
      • Serum tryptase and 24 hour urine n-methylhistamine, D2 prostaglandin and 9a,11b-F2 prostaglandin are the tests considered to be most reliable indicators of mast cell disease.

Diagnosis: Biopsies

  • Bone marrow biopsy
    • Obtained by bone marrow biopsy and aspiration procedure
    • Stained with Giemsa and tryptase stains
    • Tested with antibodies for CD117, CD2, CD25 and CD34
    • Looking for clusters of mast cells in groups of 15 or more
    • Looking for mast cells that are shaped abnormally, like spindles
    • DNA from the biopsy should be tested for the CKIT D816V mutation, a marker for systemic mastocytosis
  • Skin biopsy
    • Obtained by punch biopsy
    • Stained with Giemsa and tryptase stains
    • Tested with antibodies for CD117, CD2, CD25 and CD34
    • Looking for clusters of mast cells in groups of 15 or more
    • Looking for mast cells that are shaped abnormally, like spindles
    • DNA from the biopsy should be tested for the CKIT D816V mutation, a marker for systemic mastocytosis
  • GI biopsies
    • Obtained by scoping procedures
    • Stained with Giemsa and tryptase stains
    • Tested with antibodies for CD117, CD2, CD25 and CD34
    • Looking for clusters of mast cells in groups of 15 or more
    • Looking for mast cells that are shaped abnormally, like spindles
    • DNA from the biopsy should be tested for the CKIT D816V mutation, a marker for systemic mastocytosis (less likely to be positive than bone marrow biopsies)
    • Mast cells should be counted in five high powered (60X or 100X) fields and the count then averaged
    • Some researchers consider an average of more than 20 mast cells in a high powered field to be high, but this is not agreed upon
    • Some researchers consider an average of more than 20 mast cells in a high powered field to be diagnostic for mastocytic enterocolitis

Treatment

  • H1 antihistamines
    • Second generation, longer acting, non-sedating for daily use
    • First generation, shorter acting, sedating, but more potent
    • Other medications with H1 antihistamine properties like tricyclic antidepressants
  • H2 antihistamines
  • Leukotriene inhibitors
  • Aspirin, if tolerated
  • Mast cell stabilizers
    • Cromolyn
    • Ketotifen
    • Quercetin
  • Epinephrine (should be on hand in case of anaphylaxis)
  • These are baseline medications for MCAS/MCAD, MMAS and ISM cell patients. If symptoms are uncontrolled, other medications may be used off label for mast cell disease.
  • Smouldering systemic mastocytosis patients may require chemotherapy.
  • Aggressive systemic mastocytosis, mast cell leukemia and mast cell sarcoma patients require chemotherapy.

Medications to Avoid

  • Medications that cause degranulation
    • Alcohol (ethanol, isopropanol)
    • Amphoteracin B
    • Atracurium
    • Benzocaine
    • Chloroprocaine
    • Colistin
    • Dextran
    • Dextromethorphan
    • Dipyridamole
    • Doxacurium
    • Iodine based radiographic dye
    • Ketorolac
    • Metocurine
    • Mivacurium
    • Polymyxin B
    • Procaine
    • Quinine
    • Succinylcholine
    • Tetracine
    • Tubocurarine
    • Vancomycin (especially when given intravenously)
    • In some patients, aspirin and NSAIDs (please ask if your doctor if these are appropriate for you)

 

  • Medications that interfere with the action of epinephrine
    • Alpha adrenergic blockers
      • Alfuzosin
      • Atipamezole
      • Carvedilol
      • Doxazosin
      • Idazoxan
      • Labetalol
      • Mirtazapine
      • Phenoxybenzamide
      • Phentolamine
      • Prazosin
      • Silodosin
      • Tamsulosin
      • Terazosin
      • Tolazoline
      • Trazodone
      • Yohimbine
    • Beta adrenergic blockers
      • Acebutolol
      • Atenolol
      • Betaxolol
      • Bisoprolol
      • Bucindolol
      • Butaxamine
      • Carteolol
      • Carvedilol
      • Celiprolol
      • Esmolol
      • Metoprolol
      • Nadolol
      • Nebivolol
      • Oxprenolol
      • Penbutolol
      • Pindolol
      • Propranolol
      • Sotalol
      • Timolol

Please note these lists are not exhaustive and you should check with your provider before starting a new medication. A pharmacist can review to determine if a medication causes mast cell degranulation or interferes with epinephrine. This list represents the medications for which I was able to find evidence of degranulation or a-/b-adrenergic activity.

Special Precautions

  • Mast cell patients require special precautions before major and minor procedures, including radiology procedures with and without contrast or dyes
  • They must premedicate using the following procedure:
    • Prednisone 50mg orally (20 mg for children under 12): 24 hours and 1-2 hours before procedure
    • Diphenhydramine 25-50 mg orally (12.5 mg for children under 12) OR hydroxyzine 25 mg orally, 1 hour before procedure
    • Ranitidiine 150 mg orally (20 mg for children under 12): 1 hour before procedure
    • Montelukast 10 mg orally (5 mg for children under 12): 1 hour before procedure
    • This protocol was developed for the Mastocytosis Society by Dr. Mariana Castells and the original can be found at www.tmsforacure.org/documents/ER_Protocol.pdf

Common coincident conditions

  • Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), especially hypermobility type (Type III)
  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) or other types of dysautonomia
  • Mast cell disease, EDS and POTS are often found together
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Myeloproliferative diseases, like essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera
  • Eosinophilic disorders

 

 

 

11 Responses

  1. Mark May 31, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    I think it’s worth clarifying/adding to this post that psychiatric symptoms aren’t simply a result of dealing with the disease, especially if it’s meant to be a printout for doctors who aren’t familiar with the disease.

  2. Daryl May 31, 2015 / 2:52 pm

    Thanks Lisa, an invaluable easily understood guide to Mast Cell Disorders.
    I’m sure this will help guide many through the labyrinth of MCD.

  3. Miriam June 1, 2015 / 11:42 am

    Soooo grateful as many mast cell info sites left my head hurting as I am a tired mammy on a learning curve. I really appreciate this. Thank you xxx

  4. Bibi Bonnie June 2, 2015 / 10:39 am

    Thank you this is a brilliant piece

  5. Eileen VanMiddelem June 2, 2015 / 10:25 pm

    This is awesome! Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into sharing your knowledge. This has now been printed out and put in the diaper bag with the ER protocol from tmsforacure.org. Another copy is printed out for Harrison’s pediatrician and yet another for his immunologist. Thank you!!!!

  6. Melanie June 11, 2015 / 11:27 pm

    Thanks Lisa, for your thorough compilation of so much information. I really enjoy reading your posts. I learn so much.

    I agree with Mark’s comment. Psychiatric symptoms can be a direct result of mast cell activation and not just a result of dealing with the disease. In my case, anxiety is a major symptom of mast cell activation. Antihistamines and bioflavanoids keep it at bay, while anti-anxiety meds do not.

    • Lisa Klimas June 12, 2015 / 6:31 am

      I agree also. I added a note after his comment to clarify.

  7. Diane October 30, 2015 / 3:18 am

    Do you know of any treatment for the pins and needles feeling in feet and hands from mast cells?

  8. Lisa November 3, 2015 / 2:37 pm

    Hi, has there been any link between mast cell activation disorder and Arnold Chiari malformation? Just curious as I have both of these condition. Thanks

    • Mary February 15, 2016 / 11:14 pm

      Yes, as there is a link among Ehlers-Danlos, chiari, POTS, and mast cell disorder.

  9. Tonya February 2, 2016 / 4:12 pm

    Thank you so much for compiling this information. I am being evaluation for MCAD (i.e, waiting for a burning rash episode for tryptase lab work). I am hoping it will help explain why I’ve had a headache for 4 1/2 years amongst other things.

Comments are closed.