Master Index

Hello, intrepid readers –

At long last, there is finally an index of the posts that categorizes them by type.  You can find this index at the top of the page under “Master Index”.

In the next few days, the Master Index menu will be broken up into smaller menus.  For right now, they are separated by headings.

Please also remember that MastAttack has a search feature, at the upper right hand corner. You can also click on post tags on the right side to see posts tagged with those subjects.

Happy hunting!

Lisa

Achilles

When Achilles was an infant, his mother was told that he would die young.  She carried him to the River Styx, the dark water that separated Earth from the Underworld, and dipped him in its waters to make him impervious to harm.  Achilles grew up without fear of injury until a poison arrow landed in his heel, where his mother had held onto him many years before.  He died and became a warning – there is always a weakness, no matter how strong something seems.

I have an Achilles’ heel, and it is airports.

Since July 2014, I have travelled by plane to the following places: Seattle, Colorado, Orlando, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Colorado again.  I talked to lots of people who are more intrepid travelers than I am and got their advice.  I talked to my doctors.  I got all the paperwork and all the notes. I organized everything and made sure I had enough meds, port supplies, ostomy supplies and safe foods in case we got diverted or delayed or cancelled.   I called the airline the day after booking tickets several weeks before travel.  They were always very courteous and attentive and assured me I would not have any trouble.

The problem happens at the airport.  Specifically, it happens at the check-in counter.  I always ask for a wheelchair to meet me at the counter because while I am certainly much more stable than I was a year ago, standing up, especially in one place, pulling heavy things, is not my strong suit.  So I get to the counter and identify myself and ask for the wheelchair.  Then, while we are waiting for the wheelchair to come, it happens.

They tell me I can’t bring on my two luggage containers of medical supplies and insist that they will make me gate check one, and also that my bag holding my infusion pump and medication WHICH IS ON AND ATTACHED TO MY BODY counts as my personal item and has to be stowed overhead.  So I can only take half of my medical supplies and the bag with a line pumping medication to my body has to go in an overhead bin that will close on the line.  And so it begins.

The last eight flights I have taken were with Popular American Airline That I’m Sure You Can Guess.  I like Popular American Airline for a few reasons: their seats are bigger, they understand that I have a legitimate need to have more space (to juggle IV meds), they eventually agree that it is impossible for me to stow my pump because it is attached to my body, and they have movies and Wifi.  I pay more to travel with Popular American Airline because once I am on the plane, I generally don’t have huge problems.  I expect to get questions, I expect for people to not know things, that’s fine.  But once we have a brief exchange, they agree that what I was told by their disability services people is accurate and I have a pleasant flight.

That is not the case with the people at the check-in counter.

I have been told many tales by the people at the check-in counter: that I cannot bring all of my necessary medical supplies onboard (which is not true); that I can only bring one medium sized piece of luggage with supplies; that I have to bring multiple small pieces of luggage with supplies; that I can bring one small piece of luggage and then the rest have to be in “compressible” bags; that I can bring one small piece of luggage and it has to meet the weight limit; that I can bring one small piece of luggage and it doesn’t have to meet the weight limit; and so on.  So I never really know what I’m going to get, and calling ahead of time never helps.  I get a different answer depending on who is behind the counter.  They eventually call a supervisor, and then the supervisor tells me whatever they happen to think, which is also inconsistent.  It’s always a nightmare, and for the last several flights, I have literally started crying within fifteen minutes of being at the airport.

No amount of preparation or education helps.  Popular American Airline will not give me a letter explaining what I can bring that I can show at the counter.  They cannot “keep notes about me” so that they have a copy of my fit to fly letter on file.  They will not put in writing that I can use the pump.  Best of all, everytime this happens, they send me an email that says that they are sorry that I did not have a good experience but that they “respectfully deny” that they violated any regulations.  I don’t call them everytime this happens because I know they don’t care.  They just automatically send me an email that is basically an enormous fuck you.

What I find really funny about this situation is that sometimes, the people at the check-in counter will tell me that the reason I can’t talk those supplies with me is because TSA won’t let me.  TSA is much maligned and I have to tell you that I have not had a bad experience with TSA since I started travelling again in July 2014.  They know what PICC lines, ostomies and ports are. They are courteous and efficient. I plan to get patted down and have my bags opened and my things and my person swabbed for explosives because these people are trying to make sure no one blows up airplanes and I am carrying large amounts of liquids, glass vials, syringes, needles, adhesives, medication bottles, an endless amount of pills, a clicking infusion pump, packets of cromolyn and a partridge in a pear tree (sung).  They are always very careful to be sure they don’t contaminate any of my line supplies or medications.  TSA is not the problem here.

So I get all excited to go on these trips and see people and do things and I premedicate and call and call and jump through all the hoops and then I get to the airport and within minutes, I am so frustrated that I am crying.  And then that’s it, I’m the girl who cries at the airport and you can never un-be that girl.  And it has gotten so bad that it makes me not want to travel.

In my heart, I have always been a traveler.  I have always wanted to get on airplanes and go places and see new things, even mundane things, even by myself.  Before I got sick, I would board planes with my iPod or Discman (I know, I’m dating myself here) and a small journal to write in.  I would write and listen to music while looking out the window.  I didn’t just like being in different places.  I actually loved the change of the environment, the little lights below at night, the reddening of the sky as the plane chased daylight.  I was a good traveler.

Being at the airport now is a reminder that my experience in the before matters very little.  It doesn’t matter that I used to be a good traveler, because now I’m just a crying woman who needs a wheelchair and wants to bring too much luggage onboard.  I have had some incredible, life changing victories in the last two years, but it has been hard won.  It takes such a toll on me, both physically and emotionally.

Last week, I went to visit one of my best friends in Colorado (hi, Priscilla!!!!).  I stayed for four days, which is pretty short for me, but I couldn’t take more time away from work right now.  We stayed over in Denver, hung out at her place in Summit County, went to Garden of the Gods and drove back to her place through mountain backroads.  I have been to Colorado ten times in the last nine years, and that drive home was the most stunningly beautiful landscape I have ever seen.  Purple mountains, blue skies, unblemished snow fields, no clouds.  So beautiful it feels like I am different for having seen it.

The day I flew home was one of the longest days of my adult life.  They right away started with you can’t take all this stuff on the plane, then there was a mechanical issue with the plane after we had boarded and we all had to get off and then they cancelled the flight.  One of the gate agents really put her ass into making sure I could get home that day and I got a seat on a direct flight with another airline that night.  By the time I got home, I was really in bad shape.  I literally couldn’t stand for more than a minute or so at a time.  Bad.

I want to be a traveler again like I used to be and my Achilles’ heel is airports and I’m so fucking sick of this shit.

 

The Sex Series – Part Five: Seminal allergy, post-orgasmic illness syndrome and burning semen syndrome

Allergy to semen has only been well documented and studied in cisgender (non-transgender) women. Some papers go so far as to state that this problem is exclusive to (cisgender) women.  Despite this, there is evidence that (cisgender) males can have allergy to semen, including their own.  Furthermore, semen allergy is not restricted to vaginal intercourse and can be seen in anal and oral sex, as well as local reactions when semen contacts skin outside of the vaginal area.

Semen contains a number of inflammatory molecules, including TGFb1, MCP-1, IL-13 and IL-17.  MCP-1 has a well described role in mast cell activation in which it draws mast cells toward an inflammatory site and directly induces histamine release.  The physical effects of orgasm use opioids made in the body.  Some patients experience a days-long reaction to orgasm.

Termed “postorgasmic illness syndrome”, allergic symptoms affecting the genitals and general flu-like symptoms present 2-8 hours after ejaculation. These symptoms can persist for up to a week, with the day after ejaculation often being the worst.  Postorgasmic illness syndrome causes excessive sweating, rhinitis, anxiety, depression and difficulty concentrating.  This condition is recognized as a rare disorder by the NIH.  It has been hypothesized that these patients are in fact suffering from opioid withdrawal caused by the rapid depletion of opioids by orgasm.

Semen allergy has been associated with serum IgE to prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a molecule involved in the kallikrein-kinin system.  Autologous semen allergy, or allergy to one’s own semen, can be confirmed by reaction to semen in skin prick allergy testing or by specific IgE in the blood. One study found that 88% of patients who experienced burning and pain after ejaculation were positive for allergy to their own semen.

The phenomenon of burning after ejaculation is called “Burning semen syndrome”. In these patients, burning, pain and swelling of the UG tract occurs following ejaculation.  This study also evaluated partners of these patients receiving vaginal sex.  In many instances, both members of the couples evaluated were positive for allergy to semen. 89% of these couples had at least one member who exhibited allergic reaction to semen.

 

References:

Van Dijk F, et al. Non-oncological and non-infectious diseases of the penis (penile lesions). EAU-EBU Update series 4 2006; 13-19.

Ghosh D, Bernstein J. Systemic and localized seminal plasma hypersensitivity patients exhibit divergent immunologic characteristics. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014: 134 (4): 969-972.

Jiang N, et al. Postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS) in a Chinese man: No proof for IgE-mediated allergy to semen. J Sex Med 2015; 12: 840-845.

Bernstein JA, et al. Is burning semen syndrome a variant form of seminal plasma hypersensitivity? Obstetrics & Gynecology 2003; 101 (1): 93-102.

Chen WW, Baskin M. A 33-year-old woman with burning and blistering of perivaginal tissue following sexual intercourse. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2004; 93: 126-130.

The Sex Series – Part Four: Seminal allergy

Author’s note: This series is long and covers a number of topics other than vaginally penetrating sex, including male and female orgasms, reactions of the penis, testicles and prostate, anal sex, and pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic pain.  The first several posts are about vaginally penetrating sex because this is what I get asked the most questions about.  It is not meant to be exclusive to anyone on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

**
It is possible to be truly allergic to semen, although this is rare.  One of the hallmarks of this condition is that it is completely preventable with condom use.

Most patients react during or after their first experience with vaginal penetration by a penis resulting in ejaculation.  Each subsequent exposure generally causes a worsening reaction. However, it is possible to develop an allergy after a number of intercourse encounters. In studies, patients with seminal allergy are allergic to semen from multiple partners, although there are anecdotes about patients reacting to semen from a single partner and not only.

This type of allergy has been linked to IgE.  The testing for this sensitivity involves skin prick tests with seminal protein that produce wheal and flare response.  Semen specific IgE is often appreciable in the blood following exposure.  Some patients have type III and type IV hypersensitivity reactions to semen and symptoms can occur days after the exposure.

Like all other forms of allergy, the range of reactions is massive.  It can range from a low level itching to anaphylaxis requiring epinephrine.  Itching, burning, redness, swelling, pain, and blistering in the vagina have all been reported. Trouble breathing, cough, wheezing, GI symptoms, generalized hives, disseminated angioedema and full anaphylaxis can occur.  Anaphylaxis has been reported in 16 cases, with one case causing loss of consciousness.

Across studies, most patients have either a personal or family history of allergic conditions.  80% of patients in one study had a family history of atopic disease.  One study found that the onset of seminal allergy often coincides with genital system conditions or procedures like hysterectomy, IUD placement or removal, pregnancy and tubal ligation.  It is hypothesized that the disruption of the normal state of immune activity in the vagina by these activities can trigger seminal allergy, but this has not been proven.

References:

Schlosser BJ. Contact dermatitis of the vulva. Dermatol Clin 2010: 28; 697-706.

Moraes PSA, Taketomi EA. Allergic vulvovaginitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2000; 85: 253-267.

Chen WW, Baskin M. A 33-year-old woman with burning and blistering of perivaginal tissue following sexual intercourse. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2004; 93: 126-130.

Harlow BL, He W, Nguyen RHN. Allergic reactions and risk of vulvodynia. Ann Epidemiol 2009; 19: 771-777.

Liccardi G, et al. Intimate behavior and allergy: a narrative review. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2007; 99: 394-400.

Sonnex C. Genital allergy. Sex Transm Infect 2004; 80: 4-7.

The Sex Series – Part Three: Allergic reactions of the vagina and vulva

Most of what I said about kissing applies to genitally penetrating intercourse, too.  It is not uncommon for people to develop hives as a result of the vibration, pressure, heat and friction of intercourse. Swelling after sex, called postcoital edema, is also not unusual.  Sex is also a known trigger for asthma and rhinitis.  Several aspects of sex, including the heat and emotion, can activate the autonomic nervous system and cause release of mast cell mediators.  Importantly, studies have revealed that the allergic effects of sex are not due to the physical exertion (ie. exercise anaphylaxis).

While local reactions are more common, there is precedent for sex causing multisystem allergic response or anaphylaxis.  The person receiving the vaginal penetration is more likely to have anaphylaxis following sex, especially if they are strongly sensitized to food or medications.  Seminal fluid can contain food or drug allergens.  Aspirin and penicillin derivatives have been reported to cause allergic reactions from sex, called postcoital hypersensitivity. Transfer of pollens from the clothes or skin of the partner can also cause allergic reactions.

One product we have not yet discussed that can cause contact dermatitis and anaphylaxis is condoms. 25% of reactions to latex condoms cause hives over large portions of the body, angioedema and respiratory symptoms. There are latex alternative condoms, but many patients react to those as well.

Vaginally penetrating intercourse often causes microscopic tearing, mostly due to inadequate lubrication.  As a former sex educator, if you think you are using enough lubrication, you are not.  It is my personal experience that water based lubricants are better tolerated by most allergy patients for vaginal intercourse.  Silicone lubricant is popular because it’s not absorbed by the body and is therefore slicker, whereas water based lubricant often requires reapplication.  But that’s okay.  That’s why you get a whole bottle.

Contributing to the insufficient lubrication is the fact that most people don’t engage in long enough foreplay.  Foreplay provides a number of benefits: it increases naturally secreted vaginal lubrication, increases blood flow to the vagina and tells the cervix to get out of the way. 20 minutes of foreplay is often recommended as a rule of thumb in order to get the vagina in order before penetrating intercourse.

Moisture, friction and heat can cause the vulvar skin to break down. Estrogen plays a large role in keeping this tissue strong and undamaged.  Urine on the skin can cause contact dermatitis.  Malnutrition and history of genital infections can also contribute towards the reactivity of the tissue. It is also possible to be IgE positive for Candida albicans, a yeast that lives normally in the vagina.  Inflammation can upset the balance of the normal flora, resulting not only in vaginal infections but a literal allergy to Candida.

References:

Schlosser BJ. Contact dermatitis of the vulva. Dermatol Clin 2010: 28; 697-706.

Moraes PSA, Taketomi EA. Allergic vulvovaginitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2000; 85: 253-267.

Chen WW, Baskin M. A 33-year-old woman with burning and blistering of perivaginal tissue following sexual intercourse. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2004; 93: 126-130.

Harlow BL, He W, Nguyen RHN. Allergic reactions and risk of vulvodynia. Ann Epidemiol 2009; 19: 771-777.

Liccardi G, et al. Intimate behavior and allergy: a narrative review. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2007; 99: 394-400.

Sonnex C. Genital allergy. Sex Transm Infect 2004; 80: 4-7.

The Sex Series – Part Two: Contact dermatitis

Symptoms affecting the genitalia as a result of vaginally penetrating intercourse are not uncommon.  Today we are going to talk about allergic and irritant reactions to products. There are other kinds of symptoms to vaginally penetrating intercourse that we will get to later on in this series.

It is not unusual for people to use specific products only in advance of having sex.  This includes things like lubrication, pleasure creams, and products for shaving and removal of hair.  Contact dermatitis can arise as a result of these products.

Contact dermatitis is inflammation of the skin following contact with a substance that irritates or generates an allergic reaction.  In case it’s not obvious, genital tissue is much more sensitive than other parts of the body.  Irritant contact dermatitis of the vulva is more common than true allergic dermatitis there.

Common irritant triggers include hygiene products like soap, shower gel, and sanitary napkins, spermicides, diaphragms, and sexual lubricants.  In some people, these triggers can also generate a true allergic dermatitis.  Additional triggers commonly associated with allergic contact dermatitis regularly include neomycin, -caine anesthetics and nickel.

Contact dermatitis of the genital (and other) areas can cause a wide range of reactions from mildly irritating to very severe.  Symptoms can include redness, swelling, itching, burning and pain, and can cause chronic thickening of the skin, fissuring of the skin, weeping of the skin and blistering.  In most patients, the substance responsible for the reaction is identified via skin patch testing.  I would not expect this to be reliable in mast cell patients given the inherently reactive nature of our skin.

Irritant contact dermatitis often shows symptoms shortly after product use. True allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed type IV hypersensitivity reaction and can take 2-3 days to appear. Many patients are able to identify the trigger by removing products and symptom resolution upon doing so. Some genital hygiene products include alcohol.  Many more include propylene glycol, a well defined trigger for vulvar dermatitis.  Products that contain sugar and/or change the pH of the internal vaginal environment disturb the natural microbial flora, causing inflammation and increased risk of infection later.

It is also possible for products used by the partner to transfer during vaginal penetration.  If the penetration is made by part of the body and not a toy, transfer can happen in either direction. For persons using toys for external or internal stimulation, it is also possible to react to the material of the product. Something to consider is that many companies sell products to clean up after sex, either to clean genitalia, toys or both.  Please look carefully at the ingredients included in those products.  Additionally, please ensure that any toys used are cleaned before and after use.

 

References:

Schlosser BJ. Contact dermatitis of the vulva. Dermatol Clin 2010: 28; 697-706.

Moraes PSA, Taketomi EA. Allergic vulvovaginitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2000; 85: 253-267.

Chen WW, Baskin M. A 33-year-old woman with burning and blistering of perivaginal tissue following sexual intercourse. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2004; 93: 126-130.

Harlow BL, He W, Nguyen RHN. Allergic reactions and risk of vulvodynia. Ann Epidemiol 2009; 19: 771-777.

Liccardi G, et al. Intimate behavior and allergy: a narrative review. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2007; 99: 394-400.

Sonnex C. Genital allergy. Sex Transm Infect 2004; 80: 4-7.

The Sex Series – Part One: Kissing and allergic reactions

The avenues by which a person can suffer symptoms as a result of sex are almost endless.  I am asked often about the mechanism by which mast cell patients can react to foreplay or intercourse. The reason it has taken so long to put this series together is not because of a dearth of information, but because there is so much.  The research on this topic is deep, if not always to the point: Why do some people react badly to having sex?

There are a number of reasons why sex can cause allergic symptoms, which explains why intimacy is often fraught with anxiety for mast cell patients.  So let’s start with the entry level: kissing.

It is widely accepted that kissing can transfer allergens via saliva, or contact between skin or oral mucosa.  Allergic reaction after kissing is not even especially unusual.  5-12% of IgE food allergic patients have had at least one reaction after kissing.  Peanuts, walnuts, and tree nuts are the most common offenders.  Rash around the mouth, hives around the mouth, flushing, angioedema of lips, mouth, tongue and throat, wheezing and hives all over the body have all been reported in this situation.  Usually symptoms present within minutes, but there are literature references to reactions developing up to three hours later.

In a group of 26 volunteers that ate peanut butter, the protein reached its highest concentration in saliva five minutes after consumption.  After an hour, the protein was undetectable.  Several methods for clearing the protein were tested.  Brushing teeth, rinsing mouth, or both, waiting an hour after consumption, and waiting an hour and then chewing gum, all reduced protein concentration by over 80%.  However, waiting one hour after eating was still the most effective way to clear the protein from the mouth.

Though much less common than transfer of food allergens, it is possible to transmit medications via saliva. In literature, all reports of this phenomenon involve ingestion of β-lactam antibiotics, including penicillin derivatives.  In these cases, the patients had symptoms of oral allergy syndrome with hives over large parts of the body.

The quality of the kissing is certainly a factor.  How deep is it?  How much hard? How much friction?  How wet?  Mast cell patients often react to physical stimuli like this.  It’s not hard to imagine a situation where the pressure and heat of kissing cause local mast cell degranulation.   I found a (non-scientific) article describing a woman with aquagenic urticaria who reacts to kissing because it’s wet.  For patients allergic to sweat, that could also cause a kissing reaction.

I feel like I should throw out there that you can react to allergens returned to the mouth by vomit.  Mostly because there isn’t really anywhere else to put it.  So it’s here.  The warning about vomit is in the kissing post.  How did this get to be my life?

BUT GUESS WHAT GUYS?!?!?!? Kissing can also be good for allergy patients.  One study reported that that kissing decreased wheal response (the formation of red swollen areas) was decreased 28-34% in patient allergic to dust mite and Japanese cedar pollen.  This patient group had allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis.  It didn’t decrease the response to injection of histamine, which means the benefit from kissing in this study is not directly blocking histamine.  Plasma levels of neurotrophins were decreased in these patients.  Neurotrophins have a complex relationship to mast cells, so it’s possible that neurotrophins block something that tells mast cells to release histamine.

I know everyone wants to know – how can I kiss safely? So hang in there, because it’s coming.  Along with the answers to all of the “embarrassing” sex questions I have ever been asked.

References:

Liccardi G, et al. Intimate behavior and allergy: a narrative review. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2007; 99: 394-400.

Maloney JM, et al. Peanut allergen exposure through saliva: assessment and interventions to reduce exposure. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2006; 118: 719-724.

Liccardi G, et al. Drug allergy transmitted by passionate kissing. Lancet 2002; 359: 1700.

Sonnex C. Genital allergy. Sex Transm Infect 2004; 80: 4-7.

 

 

 

 

 

Mast cells in the GI tract: How many is too many? (Part eight)

One study assessed whether mast cell count would be influenced depending on which part of the organ biopsies were taken from. While the difference in count was not large, it is worth considering that these counts all straddle the cut off of 20 mast cells/hpf.  This means that patients with the same GI symptoms could have biopsies with over or under 20/hpf depending on the site of the biopsy.  See Table 24 for details.

Table 24: Effect of sampling site on mast cell count/hpf in colon of chronic diarrhea patients
Zare-Mirzaie A, et al. Analysis of colonic mucosa mast cell count in patients with chronic diarrhea. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2012; 18 (5): 322-326.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 5 hpf and averaged
Visualization: Tryptase (IHC), toluidine blue
Rectum Sigmoid Descending colon Transverse colon Ascending colon Cecum
20.5±5 18.3±3.5 22.6±3.9 20.7±4.9 25.5±6.7 22.1±4.9

 

The same paper also looked at effect of season on mast cell count.  There was no significant difference, but again, the range of biopsies in each season straddles the 20/hpf line. See Table 25 for details.

Table 25: Effect of season on mast cell count in colon of diarrhea patients
Zare-Mirzaie A, et al. Analysis of colonic mucosa mast cell count in patients with chronic diarrhea. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2012; 18 (5): 322-326.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 5 hpf and averaged
Visualization: Tryptase (IHC), toluidine blue
Spring Summer Fall Winter
20.6±4.7 24.2±4.9 19.5±3.9 20.3±4.9

 

The most telling portion of this study compared mast cell counts when using a simple stain (toluidine blue) and when using IHC (antibody for tryptase) to find mast cells in biopsies.  Mast cells are not easy to see on biopsy.  They require special stains, and even then, they are hard to see.  Immunohistochemistry (IHC) uses antibodies to identify markers on cells that are easier to see with a microscope.  It is not uncommon for unfamiliar doctors to refuse the use of IHC testing (which usually includes CD117, CD25, CD2 or tryptase) in lieu of commonly available stains in the lab.  However, even stains that visualize mast cells are inferior to IHC methods.  In biopsies taken from all parts of the colon, toluidine blue staining showed less than half of the mast cells visualized using IHC for tryptase.  This means that when IHC testing isn’t ordered, counts reported by simple staining are much lower than the true count. See Table 26 for details.

Table 26: Comparison of mast cell count in biopsies stained with toluidine blue and with tryptase antibody (IHC)
Zare-Mirzaie A, et al. Analysis of colonic mucosa mast cell count in patients with chronic diarrhea. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2012; 18 (5): 322-326.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 5 hpf and averaged
Visualization: Tryptase (IHC) and toluidine blue
Staining method Rectum Sigmoid Descending colon Transverse colon Ascending colon Cecum
IHC 20.5±5 18.3±3.5 22.6±3.9 20.7±4.9 25.5±6.7 22.1±4.9
Toluidine blue 8.5±0.7 6.8±1.2 10.3±4.2 10.3±3.5 12.5±5 8.1±2.9
% of cells identified by IHC seen by toluidine blue staining 41% 37% 46% 50% 49% 37%

 

There are other factors that contribute to lack of consensus in mast cell counts in GI tissue. One of the biggest causes is that not all labs use standard size high powered fields.  HPF is usually 0.25mm2, but it is not uniform throughout the research world.  Many papers don’t even provide the size of their high powered fields.  More than that, many papers report mast counts per mm2 without providing conversion factors so it’s not always possible to compare results from one paper to another.  There were some papers I wanted to use for this series that I couldn’t because I couldn’t be sure that I could convert their mast cells/mm2 confidently to mast cells/hpf.

Together with the fact that number of hpf counted, methods of biopsy slide preparation, stains and IHC antibodies are variable, it is hard to get a real understanding of whether the cut off of 20 mast cells/hpf is meaningful.  It is my finding that there are a number of conditions that cause mast cells/hpf to be higher than controls in an experiment.  It is also my finding that in some experiments, control subjects have baseline mast cell counts over 20 mast cells/hpf. It is reasonable to assume that inflammatory GI conditions can cause mast cell hyperplasia.  But the fact that chronic urticaria patients often have mast cell counts higher than control subjects is also telling.  It speaks to the fact that an allergic process can elevate mast cell counts in a space where there is no appreciable symptomology. If patients have reactions to “pseudoallergens” as described in that paper, then it is possible that these reactions could drive the increase in mast cell count in the GI tract.  If this is true, then the many mast cell patients who have “pseudoallergen” responses could see an increase in GI mast cell burden as a result of their mast cell disease.

References:

Jakate S, et al. Mastocytic enterocolitis: Increased mucosal mast cells in chronic intractable diarrhea.  Arch Pathol Lab Med 2006; 130 (3): 362-367.

Akhavein AM, et al. Allergic mastocytic gastroenteritis and colitis: An unexplained etiology in chronic abdominal pain and gastrointestinal dysmotility. Gastroenterology Research and Practice (2012): Article ID 950582.

Martinez C, et al. Diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: an organic disorder with structural abnormalities in the jejunal epithelial barrier. Gut 2013; 62: 1160-1168,

Sethi A, et al. Performing colonic mast cell counts in patients with chronic diarrhea of unknown etiology has limited diagnostic use. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2015; 139 (2): 225-232.

Doyle LA, et al. A clinicopathologic study of 24 cases of systemic mastocytosis involving the gastrointestinal tract and assessment of mucosal mast cell density in irritable bowel syndrome and asymptomatic patients. Am J Surg Pathol 2014; 38 (6): 832-843.

Ramsay DB, et al. Mast cells in gastrointestinal disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2010; 6 (12): 772-777.

Zare-Mirzaie A, et al. Analysis of colonic mucosa mast cell count in patients with chronic diarrhea. Saudi J Gatroenterol 2012; 18 (5): 322-326.

Walker MM, et al. Duodenal mastocytosis, eosinophilia and intraepithelial lymphocytosis as possible disease markers in the irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2009; 29 (7): 765-773.

Hahn HP, Hornick JL. Immunoreactivity for CD25 in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Mast Cells is Specific for Systemic Mastocytosis. American Journal of Surgical Pathology 2007; 31(11): 1669-1676.

Vivinus-Nebot M, et al. Functional bowel symptoms in quiescent inflammatory bowel diseases : role of epithelial barrier disruption and low-grade inflammation. Gut 2014; 63: 744-752.

Minnei F, et al. Chronic urticaria is associated with mast cell infiltration in the gastroduodenal mucosa. Virchows Arch 2006; 448(3): 262-8.

Hamilton MJ, et al. Mast cell activation syndrome: A newly recognized disorder with systemic clinical manifestations. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011; 128: 147-152.

Barbara G, et al. Activated mast cells in proximity to colonic nerves correlate with abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology 2004; 126(3): 693-702.

Guilarte M, et al. Diarrhoea-predominant IBS patients show mast cell activation and hyperplasia in the jejunum. Gut 2007; 56: 203-209.

Dunlop SP, et al.  Age related decline in rectal mucosal lymphocytes and mast cells. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2004; 16(10): 1011-1015.

Afrin LB, Molderings GJ. A concise, practical guide to diagnostic assessment for mast cell activation disease. World J Hematol 2014; 3 (1): 1-17.

Molderings GJ, et al. Mast cell activation disease: a concise, practical guide to diagnostic workup and therapeutic options. J Hematol Oncol 2011; 4 (10).

Akin C, et al. Mast cell activation syndrome: proposed diagnostic criteria. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010; 126 (6): 1099-1104.

Valent P, et al. Definitions, criteria and global classification of mast cell disorders with special reference to mast cell activation syndromes: a consensus proposal. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2012: 157 (3): 215-225.

Mast cells in the GI tract: How many is too many? (Part seven)

The 2014 Doyle paper provides mast cell counts in colon biopsies for healthy controls, MCAS, and IBS. Mast cells were identified using antibodies for tryptase, CD117, CD25 and CD30 (IHC). Mast cells were counted in both one HPF in the densest portion of the slide and in five HPF and averaged.  In the densest portion of the slide, mast cell counts were higher in 1 HPF than in the average of 5 HPF.  Differences in methodology such as this can contribute to lack of consensus on what constitutes too many mast cells. See Table 21 for details.

Table 21: Comparison of mast cell count in 1 HPF and in the average of 5 HPF
Doyle LA, et al. A clinicopathologic study of 24 cases of systemic mastocytosis involving the gastrointestinal tract and assessment of mucosal mast cell density in irritable bowel syndrome and asymptomatic patients. Am J Surg Pathol 2014; 38 (6): 832-843.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 1 hpf
Visualization: IHC for tryptase, CD117, CD25 and CD30
HPF Control group A:

Healthy controls

Control group B:

MCAS

Control group C:

IBS

Average Range Average Range Average Range
Average of 5 hpf 19 mast cells/hpf 7-39 mast cells/hpf 20 mast cells/hpf 12-31 mast cells/hpf 23 mast cells/hpf 9-45 mast cells/hpf
1 hpf 26 mast cells/hpf 11-55 mast cells/hpf 28 mast cells/hpf 14-48 mast cells/hpf 30 mast cells/hpf 13-59 mast cells/hpf

 

Other papers also investigated factors that could contribute to differences in mast cell counts. The 2015 Sethi paper evaluated differences in GI mast cell counts between men and women.  Women had  marginally higher counts in both IBS and control groups. See Table 22 for details.

Table 22: Difference in mast cell count between men and women with chronic diarrhea and asymptomatic controls
Sethi A, et al. Performing colonic mast cell counts in patients with chronic diarrhea of unknown etiology has limited diagnostic use. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2015; 139 (2): 225-232.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 5 hpf and averaged
Visualization: CD117 (IHC)
Sample type Study group: Women Study group: Men Control group: Women Control group: Men
Colon Average Range Average Range Average Range Average Range
30 mast cells/hpf 27-34 mast cells/hpf 27 mast cells/hpf 24-31 mast cells/hpf 24 mast cells/hpf 22-37 mast cells/hpf 21 mast cells/hpf 19-24 mast cells/hpf
Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters.

 

One paper looked at the difference in mast cell count in the rectum of healthy patients over the age of 55 and under.  Please note that these counts were made using a much lower magnification than other papers in this series, so mast cell counts are not directly comparable. Mast cells were identified using antibodies to tryptase (IHC). See Table 23 for details.

Table 23: Differences in GI mast cell count in healthy patients over and under 55 years of age.
Dunlop SP, et al.  Age related decline in rectal mucosal lymphocytes and mast cells. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2004; 16(10): 1011-1015.
SPECIAL NOTE: THESE COUNTS WERE MADE AT HALF THE MAGNIFICATION OF OTHER PAPERS IN THIS SERIES.  THESE MAST CELL COUNTS ARE NOT DIRECTLY COMPARABLE TO OTHER STUDIES.
200x magnification, number of hpf not explicitly stated, assumed mast cells counted in 1 hpf
Visualization: Tryptase (IHC)
Sample type Study group: Healthy, over 55 years old Study group: Healthy, under 55 years old Control group B:

No control group

Rectum Average Range Average Range Average Range
40.5 ± 2.4 mast cells/hpf 51.7 ± 4.1 mast cells/hpf N/A N/A

 

References:

Jakate S, et al. Mastocytic enterocolitis: Increased mucosal mast cells in chronic intractable diarrhea.  Arch Pathol Lab Med 2006; 130 (3): 362-367.

Akhavein AM, et al. Allergic mastocytic gastroenteritis and colitis: An unexplained etiology in chronic abdominal pain and gastrointestinal dysmotility. Gastroenterology Research and Practice (2012): Article ID 950582.

Martinez C, et al. Diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: an organic disorder with structural abnormalities in the jejunal epithelial barrier. Gut 2013; 62: 1160-1168,

Sethi A, et al. Performing colonic mast cell counts in patients with chronic diarrhea of unknown etiology has limited diagnostic use. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2015; 139 (2): 225-232.

Doyle LA, et al. A clinicopathologic study of 24 cases of systemic mastocytosis involving the gastrointestinal tract and assessment of mucosal mast cell density in irritable bowel syndrome and asymptomatic patients. Am J Surg Pathol 2014; 38 (6): 832-843.

Ramsay DB, et al. Mast cells in gastrointestinal disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2010; 6 (12): 772-777.

Zare-Mirzaie A, et al. Analysis of colonic mucosa mast cell count in patients with chronic diarrhea. Saudi J Gatroenterol 2012; 18 (5): 322-326.

Walker MM, et al. Duodenal mastocytosis, eosinophilia and intraepithelial lymphocytosis as possible disease markers in the irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2009; 29 (7): 765-773.

Hahn HP, Hornick JL. Immunoreactivity for CD25 in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Mast Cells is Specific for Systemic Mastocytosis. American Journal of Surgical Pathology 2007; 31(11): 1669-1676.

Vivinus-Nebot M, et al. Functional bowel symptoms in quiescent inflammatory bowel diseases : role of epithelial barrier disruption and low-grade inflammation. Gut 2014; 63: 744-752.

Minnei F, et al. Chronic urticaria is associated with mast cell infiltration in the gastroduodenal mucosa. Virchows Arch 2006; 448(3): 262-8.

Hamilton MJ, et al. Mast cell activation syndrome: A newly recognized disorder with systemic clinical manifestations. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011; 128: 147-152.

Barbara G, et al. Activated mast cells in proximity to colonic nerves correlate with abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology 2004; 126(3): 693-702.

Guilarte M, et al. Diarrhoea-predominant IBS patients show mast cell activation and hyperplasia in the jejunum. Gut 2007; 56: 203-209.

Dunlop SP, et al.  Age related decline in rectal mucosal lymphocytes and mast cells. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2004; 16(10): 1011-1015.

Afrin LB, Molderings GJ. A concise, practical guide to diagnostic assessment for mast cell activation disease. World J Hematol 2014; 3 (1): 1-17.

Molderings GJ, et al. Mast cell activation disease: a concise, practical guide to diagnostic workup and therapeutic options. J Hematol Oncol 2011; 4 (10).

Akin C, et al. Mast cell activation syndrome: proposed diagnostic criteria. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010; 126 (6): 1099-1104.

Valent P, et al. Definitions, criteria and global classification of mast cell disorders with special reference to mast cell activation syndromes: a consensus proposal. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2012: 157 (3): 215-225.

Mast cells in the GI tract: How many is too many? (Part six)

A 2007 paper assessed the reliability of CD25 on GI mast cells as a marker of systemic mastocytosis. This study determined mast cell burden in stomach, small intestine and colon of patients with SM and compared it to patients with urticaria pigmentosa, various inflammatory GI conditions and healthy controls. Mast cells were detected using antibodies for tryptase and CD25 (IHC) and counted in 10 hpf and averaged.

In the stomach, SM patients averaged 57 mast cells/hpf, compared to 14/hpf for urticaria pigmentosa patients; 23.7/hpf for other inflammatory GI conditions; and 12/hpf for healthy controls.  Conditions other than SM that caused over 20 mast cells/hpf in the stomach were H. pylori positive gastritis and bile reflux esophagus.  Some healthy controls also had a count of 20/hpf or higher. See Table 17 for details.

In the small intestine, SM patients averaged 175 mast cells/hpf; urticaria pigmentosa, 22 mast cells/hpf; other inflammatory GI conditions, 20.3 mast cells/hpf; and healthy controls, 27 mast cells/hpf in the duodenum and 32 mast cells/hpf in the terminal ileum. Conditions other than SM that caused over 20 mast cells/hpf in the small intestine were peptic duodenitis, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and eosinophilic enteritis.  See Table 18 for details.

In the colon, SM patients averaged 209 mast cells/hpf; urticaria pigmentosa, 13/hpf; other inflammatory GI conditions, 20.4/hpf; and healthy controls, 21/hpf. Conditions other than SM that caused over 20 mast cells/hpf in the colon were ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s colitis, lymphocytic colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and parasitic infection.  See Table 19 for details.

Table 17: Mast cell count in stomach of patients with systemic mastocytosis
Hahn HP, Hornick JL. Immunoreactivity for CD25 in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Mast Cells is Specific for Systemic Mastocytosis. American Journal of Surgical Pathology 2007; 31(11): 1669-1676.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 10 hpf and averaged
Visualization: Tryptase and CD25 (IHC)
Sample type Study group: Systemic mastocytosis Study group: Urticaria pigmentosa Study group: Inflammatory GI conditions Control group A:Healthy control
Stomach Average Range Average Range Average Range Average Range
57 mast cells/hpf 24-90 mast cells/hpf 14 mast cells/hpf 10-17 mast cells/hpf 23.7 mast cells/hpf 6-23.3 mast cells/hpf 12 mast cells/hpf 5-21 mast cells/hpf
Clusters/dense infiltrates or confluent sheets. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters.

 

Table 18: Mast cell count in small intestine of patients with systemic mastocytosis
Hahn HP, Hornick JL. Immunoreactivity for CD25 in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Mast Cells is Specific for Systemic Mastocytosis. American Journal of Surgical Pathology 2007; 31(11): 1669-1676.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 10 hpf and averaged
Visualization: Tryptase and CD25 (IHC)
Sample type Study group: Systemic mastocytosis Study group: Urticaria pigmentosa Study group: Inflammatory GI conditions Control group A:Healthy control
Small intestine Average Range Average Range Average Range Average Range
175 mast cells/hpf 74-339 mast cells/hpf 22 mast cells/hpf 12-32 mast cells/hpf 20.3 mast cells/hpf 17.5-33 mast cells/hpf 27 mast cells/hpf(duodenum)32 mast cells/hpf (terminal ileum) 4-51 mast cells/hpf (duodenum)21-40 mast cells/hpf (terminal ileum) 

 

Clusters/dense infiltrates or confluent sheets. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters.

 

Table 19: Mast cell count in colon of patients with systemic mastocytosis
Hahn HP, Hornick JL. Immunoreactivity for CD25 in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Mast Cells is Specific for Systemic Mastocytosis. American Journal of Surgical Pathology 2007; 31(11): 1669-1676.
Microscopy method: 400x magnification, mast cells counted in 10 hpf and averaged
Visualization: Tryptase and CD25 (IHC)
Sample type Study group: Systemic mastocytosis Study group: Urticaria pigmentosa Study group: Inflammatory GI conditions Control group A:Healthy control
Colon Average Range Average Range Average Range Average Range
209 mast cells/hpf 110-301 mast cells/hpf 13 mast cells/hpf 8-19 mast cells/hpf 20.4 mast cells/hpf 12.1-33.4 mast cells/hpf 21 mast cells/hpf 10-31 mast cells/hpf
Clusters/dense infiltrates or confluent sheets. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters. Diffuse scattered cells, no clusters.

 

Table 20: Inflammatory GI conditions associated with mast cell over 20/hpf in at least one biopsy
Stomach Small intestine Colon
Gastritis from H. pylori infection Peptic duodenitis Ulcerative colitis
Bile reflux gastropathy Celiac disease Crohn’s disease colitis
Healthy stomach tissue Irritable bowel syndrome Collagenous colitis
Eosinophilic enteritis Lymphocytic colitis
Healthy duodenum and ileum Irritable bowel syndrome
Parasitic worm infection
Eosinophilic colitis
Healthy colon tissue

 

A 2014 paper (Doyle 2014) summarized results of GI biopsies from various locations for patients with systemic mastocytosis.  Mast cell count in SM patients ranged from 20-278/hpf, with an average of 116/hpf. Most biopsies in SM patients contained clusters of mast cells or confluent sheets. 25% of positive biopsies had only one cluster of mast cells. 21% showed multiple clusters within a biopsy while other biopsies from the same region showed no mast cells.  Three biopsies from SM patients showed dispersed cells that were CD25+.

In actual practice, many doctors do not take a variety of biopsies, especially if there is no gross abnormality visualized during scoping.  This highlights the need to test for CD25. It also provides evidence that while clustering is a defining characteristic of SM, in some tissue spaces, clustering may be absent despite being present elsewhere in the same organ.

Positivity for some markers associated with systemic mastocytosis, but not enough to receive a diagnosis of SM per WHO criteria, yields a diagnosis of monoclonal mast cell activation syndrome (MMAS).  Patients with MMAS display clonality of mast cells despite not meeting criteria for SM.  In research circles, MMAS is sometimes referred to as preclinical SM.  It is possible that MMAS represents a very early stage of SM.  MMAS is managed the same way as SM and markers of clonality (25% or more mast cells in a hpf spindle shaped, positivity for CD25 and/or CD2 receptor(s), clustering of mast cells in groups of 15 or more, positivity for CKIT D816V mutation, serum tryptase baseline of 20 ng/ml or higher) should be taken seriously as an indication of proliferative mast cell disease.

 

References:

Jakate S, et al. Mastocytic enterocolitis: Increased mucosal mast cells in chronic intractable diarrhea.  Arch Pathol Lab Med 2006; 130 (3): 362-367.

Akhavein AM, et al. Allergic mastocytic gastroenteritis and colitis: An unexplained etiology in chronic abdominal pain and gastrointestinal dysmotility. Gastroenterology Research and Practice (2012): Article ID 950582.

Martinez C, et al. Diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: an organic disorder with structural abnormalities in the jejunal epithelial barrier. Gut 2013; 62: 1160-1168,

Sethi A, et al. Performing colonic mast cell counts in patients with chronic diarrhea of unknown etiology has limited diagnostic use. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2015; 139 (2): 225-232.

Doyle LA, et al. A clinicopathologic study of 24 cases of systemic mastocytosis involving the gastrointestinal tract and assessment of mucosal mast cell density in irritable bowel syndrome and asymptomatic patients. Am J Surg Pathol 2014; 38 (6): 832-843.

Ramsay DB, et al. Mast cells in gastrointestinal disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2010; 6 (12): 772-777.

Zare-Mirzaie A, et al. Analysis of colonic mucosa mast cell count in patients with chronic diarrhea. Saudi J Gatroenterol 2012; 18 (5): 322-326.

Walker MM, et al. Duodenal mastocytosis, eosinophilia and intraepithelial lymphocytosis as possible disease markers in the irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2009; 29 (7): 765-773.

Hahn HP, Hornick JL. Immunoreactivity for CD25 in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Mast Cells is Specific for Systemic Mastocytosis. American Journal of Surgical Pathology 2007; 31(11): 1669-1676.

Vivinus-Nebot M, et al. Functional bowel symptoms in quiescent inflammatory bowel diseases : role of epithelial barrier disruption and low-grade inflammation. Gut 2014; 63: 744-752.

Minnei F, et al. Chronic urticaria is associated with mast cell infiltration in the gastroduodenal mucosa. Virchows Arch 2006; 448(3): 262-8.

Hamilton MJ, et al. Mast cell activation syndrome: A newly recognized disorder with systemic clinical manifestations. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011; 128: 147-152.

Barbara G, et al. Activated mast cells in proximity to colonic nerves correlate with abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology 2004; 126(3): 693-702.

Guilarte M, et al. Diarrhoea-predominant IBS patients show mast cell activation and hyperplasia in the jejunum. Gut 2007; 56: 203-209.

Dunlop SP, et al.  Age related decline in rectal mucosal lymphocytes and mast cells. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2004; 16(10): 1011-1015.

Afrin LB, Molderings GJ. A concise, practical guide to diagnostic assessment for mast cell activation disease. World J Hematol 2014; 3 (1): 1-17.

Molderings GJ, et al. Mast cell activation disease: a concise, practical guide to diagnostic workup and therapeutic options. J Hematol Oncol 2011; 4 (10).

Akin C, et al. Mast cell activation syndrome: proposed diagnostic criteria. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010; 126 (6): 1099-1104.

Valent P, et al. Definitions, criteria and global classification of mast cell disorders with special reference to mast cell activation syndromes: a consensus proposal. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2012: 157 (3): 215-225.