The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 3

I have answered the 107 questions I have been asked most in the last four years. No jargon. No terminology. Just answers.

6. What symptoms does mast cell disease cause?

  • Mast cell disease can cause just about any symptom. Seriously.
  • Mast cell disease can cause symptoms in every system of the body. This is because mast cells are found in tissues throughout the body. They are intimately involved in lots of normal functions of the human body. When mast cells are not working correctly, lots of normal functions are not carried out correctly. When this happens, it causes symptoms. In short, mast cells can cause symptoms anywhere in the body because they were there already to help your body work right.
  • Skin symptoms can include flushing, rashes, hives (urticaria), itching, blistering, and swelling under the skin (angioedema).
  • GI symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, problems with the GI not moving correctly in general (GI dysmotility), swelling of the GI tract, chest and abdominal pain, belching, bloating, discolored stool, excessive salivation, dry mouth, and trouble swallowing.
  • Cardiovascular symptoms include high or low blood pressure, fast or slow heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and poor circulation.
  • Neuropsychiatric symptoms include brain fog, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping at night, excessive tiredness during the day, grogginess, anxiety, depression, tremors, numbness, weakness, burning and tingling (pins and needles), hearing loss, and auditory processing (difficulty understanding what was said to you).
  • Genitourinary symptoms include bladder pain, painful urination, painful intercourse/sexual activities, painful or irregular menstrual cycle (periods), and excessive or inadequate urination (too much or too little urine produced).
  • Respiratory symptoms include cough, excessive phlegm, wheezing, runny nose, sinus congestion, sneezing, and swelling of the airway.
  • General symptoms include fatigue, lack of stamina, difficulty exercising, itchy or watery eyes, and bruising easily.
  • There are some additional symptoms that I have observed in a large number of people that are not classically considered mast cell symptoms, but I now firmly believe them to be. One is fever. I think discoloration of the skin may be mast cell related for some people. Another is dystonia, involuntary muscle contraction, which can mimic appearance of a seizure. There are also different seizure-type episodes that may occur due to the nervous system being overactive. I am reluctant to call them pseudoseizures because that term specifically means they are caused as a result of mental illness. I have no evidence that these seizure-type episodes in mast cell patients occur due to mental illness. I personally refer to them as “mast cell derived seizures.” (For people who are wondering, I have been heavily researching this phenomenon and have some theories about why this happens. It’s not fleshed out enough yet to post but it’s on my think list.)
  • Having mast cell disease can make you more likely to have other conditions that cause symptoms.
  • I’m sure there are other symptoms I have forgotten to mention.

7. Why are skin and GI symptoms so common?

  • The skin has a lot of mast cells relative to other tissues. Your skin also comes into contact with lots of things in the environment. Think about the things your skin touches on a daily basis! It makes sense that it would get the exposure so skin symptoms can be common. Additionally, some of the chemicals mast cells release can cause fluid to become trapped in the skin. For these reasons, symptoms affecting the skin are pretty common.
  • The GI tract also has a lot of mast cells relative to other tissues. Your GI tract also comes in contact with lots of things in the environment. Let’s think about this for a minute. Your GI tract is essentially one long tube through your body. You put things from the environment in your GI tract at the top and they come back out the bottom of the tract. In a way, your GI tract is kind of like the outside of the inside of your body.
  • This is the analogy I learned in anatomy and physiology class to visualizing the GI tract as the outside of the inside of the body. Think of the body as a donut. (A low histamine, fully allergy friendly, requires no GI motility, wonderful donut.) Now think of the GI tract as the donut hole. You can put your finger through the hole in the middle of the donut. Only that center part of the donut will touch your finger. This is kind of like putting food throughout the GI tract. That food only touches a very small part of the body as it passes through.
  • Since what we put into our mouths (or other GI openings) is from the outside, your body has many mast cells in the GI tract to protect the body. Some of the chemicals mast cells release can cause fluid to become trapped in the layers of GI tissue. Some of the medications we take for mast cell disease can affect the GI tract. Some of them change how much acid we make in our stomachs. Some of them slow down the GI tract. A few of them speed it up or make the GI tract more fragile. For these reasons, symptoms affecting the GI tract are very common.

For more detailed reading, please visit these posts:

The Provider Primer Series: Management of mast cell mediator symptoms and release

The Provider Primer Series: Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS)

The Provider Primer Series: Cutaneous Mastocytosis/ Mastocytosis in the Skin

The Provider Primer Series: Diagnosis and natural history of systemic mastocytosis (ISM, SSM, ASM)

The Provider Primer Series: Diagnosis and natural history of systemic mastocytosis (SM-AHD, MCL, MCS)

Symptoms, mediators and mechanisms: A general review (Part 1 of 2)

Skin symptoms    
Symptom Mediators Mechanism
Flushing Histamine (H1), PGD2 Increased vasodilation and permeability of blood vessels

Blood is closer to the skin and redness is seen

Itching Histamine (H1), leukotrienes LTC4, LTD4, LTE4, PAF Possibly stimulation of itch receptors or interaction with local neurotransmitters
Urticaria Histamine (H1), PAF, heparin, bradykinin Increased vasodilation and permeability of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels

Fluid is trapped inappropriately between layers of skin

Angioedema Histamine (H1), heparin, bradykinin, PAF Increased vasodilation and permeability of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels

Fluid is trapped inappropriately between layers of tissue

 

Respiratory symptoms    
Symptom Mediators Mechanism
Nasal congestion Histamine (H1), histamine (H2), leukotrienes LTC4, LTD4, LTE4 Increased mucus production

Smooth muscle constriction

Sneezing Histamine (H1), histamine (H2), leukotrienes LTC4, LTD4, LTE4 Increased mucus production

Smooth muscle constriction

Airway constriction/ difficulty breathing Histamine (H1), leukotrienes LTC4, LTD4, LTE4, PAF Increased mucus production

Smooth muscle constriction

 

Cardiovascular symptoms    
Symptom Mediators Mechanism
Low blood pressure Histamine (H1), PAF,  PGD2, bradykinin Decreased force of heart contraction

Increased vasodilation and permeability of blood vessels

Impact on norepinephrine signaling

Change in heart rate

Presyncope/syncope (fainting) Histamine (H1), histamine (H3), PAF, bradykinin Increased vasodilation and permeability of blood vessels

Decrease in blood pressure

Dysfunctional release of neurotransmitters

High blood pressure Chymase,  9a,11b-PGF2, renin, thromboxane A, carboxypeptidase A Impact on renin-angiotensin pathway

Impact on norepinephrine signaling

Tightening and decreased permeability of blood vessels

Tachycardia Histamine (H2), PGD2 Increasing heart rate

Increasing force of heart contraction

Impact on norepinephrine signaling

Arrhythmias Chymase, PAF, renin Impact on renin-angiotensin pathway

Impact on norepinephrine signaling

 

Gastrointestinal symptoms    
Symptom Mediators Mechanism
Diarrhea Histamine (H1), histamine (H2), bradykinin, serotonin Smooth muscle constriction

Increased gastric acid secretion

Dysfunctional release of neurotransmitters

Gas Histamine (H1), histamine (H2), bradykinin Smooth muscle constriction

Increased gastric acid secretion

Abdominal pain Histamine (H1), histamine (H2), bradykinin, serotonin Smooth muscle constriction

Increased gastric acid secretion

Dysfunctional release of neurotransmitters

Nausea/vomiting Histamine (H3), serotonin Dysfunctional release of neurotransmitters
Constipation Histamine (H2), histamine (H3), serotonin (low) Dysfunctional release of neurotransmitters

 

Role of sex hormones in hereditary angioedema

Sex hormones are well known for influencing symptoms of immune mediated conditions. Estrogen can affect cell proliferation and activation. Menses, pregnancy, menopause, and use of oral contraception are known to affect hereditary angioedema (HAE) but it is not yet clear how.

One hypothesis is that estrogen may activate the kallikrein-kinin system, thereby increasing production of bradykinin. Another hypothesis is that estrogen can affect the expression of the FXII gene, which produces the initiating molecule in the bradykinin pathway. Estrogen may also regulate the B2 receptors that bradykinin binds to. While all of these ideas are possible, there have not yet been any definitive findings.

In female patients, onset of HAE often correlates with the start of puberty. Menses, pregnancy and delivery also correlate with flare ups of HAE. Puberty makes HAE attacks more frequent and severe in 56.7% of cases; menses does the same in 35.3%; ovulation, 14%. Use of estroprogestin contraceptives irritate and worsen HAR in 63-80% of HAE women. The first trimester of pregnancy is known to be a difficult time for HAE women, as circulating estrogen is particularly high and many women discontinue maintenance therapy out of safety concerns for the fetus.

In patients with type III HAE in whom a Factor XII mutation has been identified, episodes occur almost exclusively during periods of high estrogen. This initial observation led to type III to be called “estrogen dependent HAE”, but this only refers to a subset of patients and has fallen out of use. Estrogen levels do not affect symptoms in other type III HAE patients (without the Factor XII mutation) and in many acquired angioedema patients.

Female HAE patients of reproductive age, who are not using oral contraceptives, often have polycystic or multifollicular ovaries. Ovulation is a complex multistep process in which two steps are controlled by C1INH.

 

 

References:

Zuraw, B. L., et al. A focused parameter update : Hereditary angioedema, acquired C1 inhibitor deficiency, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor-associated angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2013; 131(6); 1491-1493e25.

Kaplan AP, et al. Pathogenic mechanisms of bradykinin mediated diseases: dysregulation of an innate inflammation pathway. Adv Immunol 2014; 121:41-89.

Kaplan AP, et al. The plasma bradykinin-forming pathways and its interrelationships with complement. Mol Immunol 2010 Aug; 47(13):2161-9.

Firinu, Davide, et al. Characterization of patients with angioedema without wheals: the importance of F12 gene screening. Clinical Immunology (2015) 157, 239-248.

Ohsawa, Isao, et al. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of hereditary angioedema: survey data from 94 physicians in Japan. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 114 (2015) 492-498.

 

 

 

 

Angioedema: Part 3

Acquired angioedema (AAE) is characterized by a deficiency of C1INH not associated with a genetic defect; overactivation of the classical complement pathway; and frequent angioedema episodes. AAE is rare, about ten times less common than HAE. However, the two conditions are clinically identical. AAE often presents with low CH50, C2, C4 and sometimes C1q, with low or poorly functioning C1INH.

AAE was originally associated with lymphoma and has since been found secondary to a number of autoimmune and hematologic diseases, particularly lymphoproliferative conditions and monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS, which often precedes multiple myeloma). Historically, AAE has been divided into two groups: type I, which I just described; and type II, in which there are IgG antibodies to C1INH that inactivate C1INH. However, further research found that anti-C1INH antibodies are also found in type I. It has since been recognized that these are really different presentations of the same condition, with lymphoma cells depleting C1INH more readily. There have been documented instances in which achieving remission from lymphoma cured the associated AAE.

There are other types of angioedema that are difficult to classify. Idiopathic angioedema is the instance of three episodes in 6-12 months without a clear trigger or pathology. It is distinguished from hereditary angioedema by the shorter duration of symptoms. Further testing demonstrates normal levels and function of C1INH in these patients. This is sometimes called “idiopathic non-histaminergic AAE” to distinguish from an allergic process.

Type III HAE patients are sometimes positive for mutations in the Factor XII gene. However, in some patients, no mutation is found. All type III patients demonstrate normal level and function of C1INH. Type III patients experienced four attacks per year on average, with 42.9% having swelling in the airway. 85% had abdominal attacks, with some severe enough to result in emergency (though unnecessary) surgical procedures and ascites, free fluid in the abdomen.

In the patients with the Factor XII mutation, attacks were most likely to occur during high estrogen states, but were not exclusive to these periods. Initial attacks for this patient group usually occurred while on oral contraceptives or during pregnancy. However, men and children were also found to have Factor XII mutations. Initial attacks were less likely to affected by estrogen state in type III HAE with no FXII mutation or in idiopathic non-histaminergic angioedema. .

23% of type III patients exhibited elevated D-dimer levels outside of attack periods. Some also had extended clotting times. In the FXII mutated group, bruising was seen in a number of patients when swelling in the swollen portions of anatomy, but strictly in the skin. 27.9% of pregnancies in this group terminated in spontaneous miscarriage. Two births were extremely premature and one liveborn child died shortly after birth with no obvious cause of death.

References:

Zuraw, B. L., et al. A focused parameter update : Hereditary angioedema, acquired C1 inhibitor deficiency, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor-associated angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2013; 131(6); 1491-1493e25.

Kaplan AP, et al. Pathogenic mechanisms of bradykinin mediated diseases: dysregulation of an innate inflammation pathway. Adv Immunol 2014; 121:41-89.

Kaplan AP, et al. The plasma bradykinin-forming pathways and its interrelationships with complement. Mol Immunol 2010 Aug; 47(13):2161-9.

Firinu, Davide, et al. Characterization of patients with angioedema without wheals: the importance of F12 gene screening. Clinical Immunology (2015) 157, 239-248.

Csuka, Dorottya, et al. Activation of the ficolin-lectin pathway during attacks of hereditary angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 134 (6) 1388-1393.e3.

Ohsawa, Isao, et al. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of hereditary angioedema: survey data from 94 physicians in Japan. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 114 (2015) 492-498.

Kajdacsi, E., et al. Endothelial cell activation during edematous attacks of hereditary angioedema types I and II. J Allergy Clin Immunol 133 (6); 1686-1691.

Triggianese, Paola, et al. The autoimmune side of hereditary angioedema: insights on the pathogenesis. Autoimmunity Reviews 2015 (ahead of press).

Madsen, Daniel Elenius, et al. C1-inhibitor polymers activate the FXII-dependent kallikrein-kinin system: implication for a role in hereditary angioedema. Biochimica and Biophysica Act 1850 (2015) 1336-1342.

Lasek-Bal, Anetta, et al. Hereditary angioedema with dominant cerebral symptoms finally leading to chronic disability. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery 135 (2015) 38-40.

 

 

 

Angioedema: Part 2

Patients with HAE may have normal bloodwork for routine tests. Blood counts, electrolytes and liver function tests are often unremarkable. Upon further testing, complement protein C4 is often low. This deficiency is most profound during attacks but often continues in interim periods. C3 is usually normal.

  • In HAE type I, C1 inhibitor (C1INH), C4 and C2 levels are low, while C1q is normal.
  • In HAE type II, C1INH is normal or marginally increased, C4 and C2 levels are low, and C1q is normal. C1INH functional tests yield low function.
  • In HAE type III, CIINH is normal and functions normally and C4 is sometimes normal. Mutation for Factor XII is sometimes found. This is still largely a diagnosis of exclusion based upon similar clinical presentation as the other two types.

Hereditary angioedema (HAE) attacks carry the risk of significant danger as airway constriction can lead to suffocation. More than half of HAE patients will experience laryngeal swelling at least once in their lifetime. Swells typically last 2-3 days and then resolve over the following two days. Antihistamines and steroids are ineffective in mitigating swelling of this type.

HAE attacks have many triggers in the same way mast cell disease does. HAE was originally termed angioneurotic disease because patients frequently had a strong emotional event that activated the disease. In women, swells may correspond to changes in circulatory estrogen – pregnancy, menopause, puberty, menses. Psychological stress is a well characterized trigger for HAE and patients are strongly urged to eliminate sources of stress wherever possible. ACE inhibitors are known to interfere with regulation of the pathway to produce bradykinin and should therefore by avoided.

The last few years have seen several medications for acute angioedema attacks come to market. Cinryze, Berinert and Ruconest are C1INH solutions for intravenous infusion that can be administered at home. Kalbitor is a kallikrein inhibitor that is formulated for subcutaneous injection. Firazyr blocks the bradykinin receptor and is also available for injection. It is universally agreed that these medications should be available on demand in the event of a swell as they have been shown to safely and effectively reduce the risk to life.

With the advent of these targeted medications, more outmoded treatments are start to be phased out. Previous treatment modalities include fresh frozen plasma for acute attacks or short term prophylaxis, anabolic steroids like anabolic steroids, such as danazol, and antifibrinolytic medications, such as tranexamic acid. These medications often had difficult side effects, but still see some use for prophylaxis to avoid swell episodes. For short term prophylaxis for procedures, 1000-2000U of C1INH, 2U of freshly frozen plasma or a week of high dose danazol can be used.

References:

Zuraw, B. L., et al. A focused parameter update : Hereditary angioedema, acquired C1 inhibitor deficiency, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor-associated angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2013; 131(6); 1491-1493e25.

Kaplan AP, et al. Pathogenic mechanisms of bradykinin mediated diseases: dysregulation of an innate inflammation pathway. Adv Immunol 2014; 121:41-89.

Kaplan AP, et al. The plasma bradykinin-forming pathways and its interrelationships with complement. Mol Immunol 2010 Aug; 47(13):2161-9.

Firinu, Davide, et al. Characterization of patients with angioedema without wheals: the importance of F12 gene screening. Clinical Immunology (2015) 157, 239-248.

Csuka, Dorottya, et al. Activation of the ficolin-lectin pathway during attacks of hereditary angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 134 (6) 1388-1393.e3.

Ohsawa, Isao, et al. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of hereditary angioedema: survey data from 94 physicians in Japan. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 114 (2015) 492-498.

Kajdacsi, E., et al. Endothelial cell activation during edematous attacks of hereditary angioedema types I and II. J Allergy Clin Immunol 133 (6); 1686-1691.

Triggianese, Paola, et al. The autoimmune side of hereditary angioedema: insights on the pathogenesis. Autoimmunity Reviews 2015 (ahead of press).

Madsen, Daniel Elenius, et al. C1-inhibitor polymers activate the FXII-dependent kallikrein-kinin system: implication for a role in hereditary angioedema. Biochimica and Biophysica Act 1850 (2015) 1336-1342.

Lasek-Bal, Anetta, et al. Hereditary angioedema with dominant cerebral symptoms finally leading to chronic disability. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery 135 (2015) 38-40.

 

 

 

Angioedema: Part 1

Hereditary angioedema (HAE) is a heritable blood disorder that causes episodes of protracted swelling, which can be life threatening. It has three subtypes, with two known to be caused by a mutation in the C1-INH (C1 inhibitor) gene.

HAE causes angioedema, a condition in which fluid leaves the bloodstream and passes into the space between the deep dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Swelling episodes can last for up to five days and swelling resolves between attacks. About 30% of HAE patients also have a rash similar to erythema marginatum, pink, slightly raised rings that don’t itch or wheal. HAE patients do not have hives or itching, an important distinction that allows diagnostic separation from chronic urticaria and angioedema

Swelling can occur in any region of the body, but face, GI tract, limbs, penis and scrotum are the most common. Angioedema of the tongue and pharynx can compromise the airway, as can edema of the larynx. In these patients, a tracheostomy may need to be placed.

Over 90% of patients suffer severe abdominal swells lasting 2-4 days. Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms in this group. It is not unusual for doctors to assess the patient as having an “acute abdomen” in need of surgical intervention. Likewise, unnecessary surgery is often performed looking for the source of the swelling. These symptoms occur as a result of edema in the bowel wall, with complete or partial obstruction, sometimes causing ascites, or free fluid in the abdomen.

Angioedema seen in HAE patients is caused by excessive production of bradykinin, which is initiated by factor XII (also called Hageman factor). There are three types of HAE:

  • Patients with HAE type I (85% of cases) have too little C1 inhibitor which functions poorly.
  • Patients with type II (15% of cases) have normal levels of C1 inhibitor but it does not function correctly.
  • Patients with HAE type III have normal levels and function of C1 inhibitor, but have symptoms and treatment responses similar to those with types I and II. Current research indicates that these people sometimes have mutations in the gene for Factor XII, which is also involved in the production of bradykinin.

Bradykinin acts on B2 receptors to cause blood vessels to dilate, decreasing blood pressure. It also increases vessel permeability, allowing fluid and cells to leave the blood stream and become trapped in tissues, resulting in angioedema.

C1 inhibitor (C1INH) is a molecule with multiple regulatory functions. Its name derives from its relation to the complement protein C1, the activation of which is the initiating step in the classical pathway for the complement system, a mechanism for fighting infections. A side product of this pathway is the large scale production of complement proteins C3a and C5a, both of which can induce anaphylaxis. C1INH also regulates steps involving the formation of plasminogen and plasmin, which prevent the formation of blood clots.

C1INH also inhibits the molecule Factor XII, also called Hageman Factor. C1INH prevents Factor XII from activating itself, the first step in a pathway that produces bradykinin. Activation of Factor XII causes formation of molecules XIIa and XIIf. Factor XIIa induces conversion of prekallikrein to kallikrein, and kallikrein then acts on high molecular weight kininogen to release bradykinin. All of those steps are regulated by C1INH.

 

References:

Zuraw, B. L., et al. A focused parameter update : Hereditary angioedema, acquired C1 inhibitor deficiency, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor-associated angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2013; 131(6); 1491-1493e25.

Kaplan AP, et al. Pathogenic mechanisms of bradykinin mediated diseases: dysregulation of an innate inflammation pathway. Adv Immunol 2014; 121:41-89.

Kaplan AP, et al. The plasma bradykinin-forming pathways and its interrelationships with complement. Mol Immunol 2010 Aug; 47(13):2161-9.

Firinu, Davide, et al. Characterization of patients with angioedema without wheals: the importance of F12 gene screening. Clinical Immunology (2015) 157, 239-248.

Csuka, Dorottya, et al. Activation of the ficolin-lectin pathway during attacks of hereditary angioedema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 134 (6) 1388-1393.e3.

Ohsawa, Isao, et al. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of hereditary angioedema: survey data from 94 physicians in Japan. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 114 (2015) 492-498.

Kajdacsi, E., et al. Endothelial cell activation during edematous attacks of hereditary angioedema types I and II. J Allergy Clin Immunol 133 (6); 1686-1691.

Triggianese, Paola, et al. The autoimmune side of hereditary angioedema: insights on the pathogenesis. Autoimmunity Reviews 2015 (ahead of press).

Madsen, Daniel Elenius, et al. C1-inhibitor polymers activate the FXII-dependent kallikrein-kinin system: implication for a role in hereditary angioedema. Biochimica and Biophysica Act 1850 (2015) 1336-1342.

Lasek-Bal, Anetta, et al. Hereditary angioedema with dominant cerebral symptoms finally leading to chronic disability. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery 135 (2015) 38-40.

 

 

 

Chronic urticaria and angioedema: Part 5

Chronic urticaria has a very well described stepwise treatment standard, which I will describe briefly here. If resolution is not achieved with the method described in one step, the next step is executed.

  • A second generation H1 antihistamine like cetirizine is begun with standard daily dosing. Triggers should be avoided wherever possible.
  • Dosage of second generation H1 antihistamine is increased.
  • Another second generation H1 antihistamine is added to the regimen. (For example, cetirizine and fexofenadine taken together).
  • An H2 antihistamine is added. About 15% of histamine receptors in the skin are H2, so some patients see benefit from this.
  • A leukotriene receptor antagonist like montelukast is added.
  • A first generation H1 antihistamine like diphenhydramine is added at bedtime.
  • A strong antihistamine like hydroxyzine or doxepin is added and dosages increased accordingly.
  • If all else has failed, consider addition of medications like Xolair, cyclosporine, or other immunosuppressants.

Treatment of angioedema is dependent upon the cause of the angioedema (C1 esterase deficiency, ACE inhibitor, etc). However, it is generally agreed upon that upper airway swelling, even if mild, should be treated aggressively. Intramuscular epinephrine is indicated for this situation, with advisories in numerous papers to administer epinephrine as early as possible if airway swelling is present.

Reactions caused by IgE are the most likely to respond immediately to epinephrine. Hereditary and acquired angioedema are less likely to respond to epinephrine. If the patient is on beta blockers, glucagon is the drug of choice, as beta blockers interfere with action of epinephrine.

I am doing a detailed follow up post on treatment options for the various types of angioedema.

 

References:

Jonathan A. Bernstein, et al. The diagnosis and management of acute and chronic urticaria: 2014 update. J Allergy Clin Immunol Volume 133, Number 5.

Zuberbier T, Maurer M. Urticaria: current opinions about etiology, diagnosis and therapy. Acta Derm Venereol 2007;87:196-205.

Ferdman, Ronald M. Urticaria and angioedema. Clin Ped Emerg Med 2007; 8:72-80.

Chronic urticaria and angioedema: Part 4

There are a number of other conditions that present with similar features to chronic urticaria and angioedema.

Conditions that can present similarly to chronic urticaria are listed below.

Chronic urticarial vasculitis is associated with low or normal complement levels and confusingly can be a primary autoimmune disorder, or a process secondary to another autoimmune disease, like lupus. Urticarial vasculitis lesions sometimes resolve quickly but can last for several days. A lesion biopsy can distinguish between CU and chronic urticarial vasculitis. Painful or burning lesions suggest urticarial vasculitis, with raised lesions that don’t blanch, and may leave hyperpigmented areas in place of resolved lesions. Hepatitis B and C can cause urticarial vasculitis.

Swelling of the upper eyes can be mistaken for angioedema, but in some people may be a symptom of thyroid ophthalmopathy, thyroid driven eye disease. Development of urticaria for during pregnancy is not unusual. Cyclical urticaria can be from autoimmune progesterone dermatitis. Episodes of angioedema with accompanying weight gain can be caused by Gleich syndrome (episodic angioedema with eosinophilia).

Cutaneous mast cell patients demonstrate a variety of urticaria-like lesions, including urticaria pigmentosa, mastocytomas and telangiectasia macularis eruptive perstans. Mast cell activation syndrome can also cause angioedema and urticaria, but generally these are not the only symptoms.

Erythema multiforme looks like urticaria but is often due to viral infections, mycoplasma infections or some medications. Bullous pemphigoid can initially present with hive-like welts or small plaques that do not always blister in early disease. Swelling of the lips in the absence of eczema can indicate cheilitis granulomatosa.

Schnitzler syndrome can cause non-itching hives that exclude the face, bone pain and intermittent fevers. These patients also have IgM or IgG monoclonal gammopathy.

 

Angioedema in the absence of urticaria is rare. There are a few conditions that can cause it.

Hereditary angioedema (HAE) is caused by C1 esterase inhibitor deficiency (in type I, 80%-85% of cases); or dysfunction (in type II, 15-20%).  People with HAE do not have coincident urticaria. HAE is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, but up to ¼ of patients develop the condition through spontaneous mutation rather than through inheritance of the gene. About 40% of patients have their initial attacks before the age of 5.

Acquired angioedema (AAE) is caused by antibodies to C1 esterase inhibitor, which is usually caused by cancers of B cells. AAE is more likely to develop in older patients (usually fourth decade of life or later) and family history of angioedema is generally absent. AAE is also more likely to develop when an autoimmune disease or proliferative blood disorder is present.

Angioedema associated with these conditions can affect any part of the body, including limbs and abdomen. Patients with abdominal angioedema are often misdiagnosed as having an “acute” abdomen that requires surgical intervention. It is not unusual for patients to present initially only with abdominal swelling. Both HAE and AAE have a number of common triggers, including infection, emotional or physical stress. or trauma. Importantly, they are not caused directly by histamine and other mast cell mediators and as such are not responsive to antihistamines and corticosteroids.

There is also a form of angioedema specifically induced by treatment with ACE inhibitors. It can be relieved by discontinuing ACE inhibitor therapy.  Idiopathic angioedema can also occur in the absence of urticaria but is more likely to respond to prophylactic antihistamine use than HAE or AAE.

 

Edited to add: I removed the following line from the first HAE paragraph: “Type III is estrogen mediated and only found in adult women.”  This statement is inaccurate,  I mistakenly included i, as I had originally noted it when reading a paper from 2007.  I am doing a follow up post on HAE that will elaborate further on the different subtypes and treatment.  Many thanks to the reader who caught it!

 

References:

Jonathan A. Bernstein, et al. The diagnosis and management of acute and chronic urticaria: 2014 update. J Allergy Clin Immunol Volume 133, Number 5.

Zuberbier T, Maurer M. Urticaria: current opinions about etiology, diagnosis and therapy. Acta Derm Venereol 2007;87:196-205.

Ferdman, Ronald M. Urticaria and angioedema. Clin Ped Emerg Med2007; 8:72-80.

Kanani, Amin, et al. Urticaria and angioedema. Allergy Asthma and Clinical Immunology 2011, 7(Suppl 1):S9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chronic urticaria and angioedema: Part 3

There are several pathways that can culminate in angioedema and urticaria.

Activation of mast cells by IgE is the most well known mechanism. When IgE binds to receptors on mast cells, several things happen. The mast cells release histamine. This in turn causes dilation of the nearby vessels and causes fluid to leak from the bloodstream into the tissues. This causes nerve cells to activate and release substance P, which also contributes to vasodilation and causes mast cells to release more histamine. In response to activation by IgE, mast cells will also produce PGD2 and leukotrienes C4 and D4.

The complement system is one of the ways our body identifies infectious agents and triggers the immune system to kill them. Complement proteins are in the blood all the time, and they can be activated by three distinct pathways, all of which are triggered by pathogens: the classical pathway, the alternative pathway and the lectin pathway. Regardless of which pathway activates the complement system, the molecules C3a, C4a and C5a are produced. These molecules bind to receptors on mast cells and induce histamine release.

Following initial dilation of local vessels, proteins that normally are found in the plasma move into the skin. This activates the kinin system, which produces bradykinin through a series of steps. Bradykinin is a very powerful vasodilator and contributes significantly to loss of volume from the blood stream to the tissues.

C3a, C5a, PGD2, and leukotrienes C4 and D4 all draw other inflammatory cells to the site of activated mast cells. These cells release further molecules to stimulate histamine release. This mechanism perpetuates inflammation beyond the original insult.

Bradykinin levels are normally controlled by the enzyme ACE. When patients take ACE inhibitor medications (like Lisinopril, etc), this interferes with bradykinin degradation and cause urticarial and angioedema.

C1 esterase inhibitor regulates complement and kinin pathways. In patients who are deficient in C1 esterase inhibitor, bradykinin may be overproduced.

Many autoimmune conditions cause the formation of IgG1 and IgG3 antibodies. These molecules can interfere with the complement system and cause production of fragments that activate mast cells, like C3a.

NSAIDs are well characterized in their ability to cause angioedema and urticaria. While the mechanism is not fully understood, it is thought that since NSAIDs stop production of prostaglandins, the mast cells overproduce leukotrienes, which contribute to the angioedema and urticaria.

There are several non-immunologic methods that can result in angioedema and urticaria. Heat or pressure on the skin; radiocontrast dyes; alcohol; vancomycin; opioids; and foods like shellfish and strawberries have been linked to these conditions.

 

References:

Jonathan A. Bernstein, et al. The diagnosis and management of acute and chronic urticaria: 2014 update. J Allergy Clin Immunol Volume 133, Number 5.

Usmani N,Wilkinson SM. Allergic skin disease: investigation of both immediate and delayed-type hypersensitivity is essential. Clin Exp Allergy 2007;37:1541-6.

Zuberbier T, Maurer M. Urticaria: current opinions about etiology, diagnosis and therapy. Acta Derm Venereol 2007;87:196-205.

Ferdman, Ronald M. Urticaria and angioedema. Clin Ped Emerg Med2007; 8:72-80.

 

Chronic urticaria and angioedema: Part 2

CU lesions are swollen pink or red wheals, of variable size, often with surrounding redness. They are generally itchy rather than painful or burning. Angioedema is not itchy, brawny, of a non-pitting quality with indistinct margins and without redness.

There are a number of chronic urticaria and angioedema (CU) subsets that are triggered by environmental sources. These are called physical urticarias.

In aquagenic urticaria, patients develop hives after contact between water and the skin. Temperature is not a factor in this type of urticaria. The hives are generally “pinpoint”, measuring 1-3mm. This is confirmed by applying a water compress at near body temperature to the skin of the upper body for 30 minutes.

Cholinergic urticaria also causes pinpoint hives, but these hives are surrounded by large flare reactions as a result of increased body temperature. Exercise, sweating, emotional stress, hot baths and showers are all frequent triggers of this subtype. Cholinergic urticaria can be benign or life threatening. Testing involves exercise or hot water immersion as these activities raise the core body temperature.

Cold urticaria results in hiving when the skin is exposed to a cold source. Patients may have systemic reactions in the event of full body exposure to the cold (swimming in cold water, etc). This is tested by placing an ice cube on the patient’s skin and waiting for a reaction, which occurs when the skin starts to warm.

Delayed pressure urticaria/angioedema presents as swelling, which may be painful, after the skin is exposed to pressure. While 4-6 hours is a more typical duration for symptoms to present, in some patients it can take 12-24 hours. Working with tools, sitting on a bench, wearing tight clothing, and carrying a heavy purse are all representative triggers. Testing for this subtype involves placing a 15 lb weight on the patient’s shoulder for 10-15 minutes, then waiting for response. Angioedema at the site that evolves following this test is considered a positive test, regardless of whether or not weals are present. This type can be difficult to treat.

Dermatographia is the most common type of physical urticaria. 2-5% of the general population have dermatographia.   Stroking the skin firmly causes a weal and flare reaction where the skin was touched. It does not usually require treatment.

Exercise induced anaphylaxis has two types: those in whom anaphylaxis in provoked strictly by exercise, and those in whom anaphylaxis is triggered when a specific food is consumed prior to exercise. Cholinergic urticaria can also be triggered by exercise, so it is important to distinguish between the two. Exercise anaphylaxis can only be triggered by exercise, whereas cholinergic urticaria results if the patient becomes too hot. People with exercise induced anaphylaxis need to carry epipens and must not exercise alone as reactions can be severe.

Solar urticaria is the development of hives when the skin is exposed to sunlight, generally within minutes. Solar urticarial is further divided in subtypes based upon which wavelengths of light are triggering to the patient. Testing involves lightbox exposure to isolated wavelengths of light. It is distinct from polymorphous light eruption, in which onset is often delayed and can last for days. It can cause papules, papulovesicles and plaque manifestations on the skin.

Recall urticaria is hiving at the site of a previous sting or injection when exposed again to the same trigger.

Vibratory angioedema causes itching and swelling when the skin is exposed to a vibration source. This specific type can show a familial trait. It is confirmed by showing a response after use of a vortex mixer (a piece of lab equipment that mixes solutions in tubes).

 

References:

Jonathan A. Bernstein, et al. The diagnosis and management of acute and chronic urticaria: 2014 update. J Allergy Clin Immunol Volume 133, Number 5.

Usmani N,Wilkinson SM. Allergic skin disease: investigation of both immediate and delayed-type hypersensitivity is essential. Clin Exp Allergy 2007;37:1541-6.

Zuberbier T, Maurer M. Urticaria: current opinions about etiology, diagnosis and therapy. Acta Derm Venereol 2007;87:196-205.