GI scoping in mast cell patients

• Mast cell patients often need gastrointestinal scoping procedures to investigate the cause of dominant GI symptoms or see the full extent of GI organ inflammation, dysfunction or failure.

• GI scoping procedures for mast cell patients require thoughtful preparation due to the many triggers these procedures present. Overwhelmingly, GI scoping is performed safely in mast cell patients.

• An IV is placed before the start of the procedure. It is not unusual for mast cell patients to be “hard sticks”, meaning that it is hard to place an IV. There are several reasons that this happens.

• Mast cell disease causes significant third spacing, a phenomenon in which the fluid is the bloodstream falls out of the bloodstream and gets stuck in tissues. This means that mast cell patients may not have as much fluid in their bloodstream as they should, causing functional dehydration. Dehydration causes the blood vessels to be smaller and more tense.

• Mast cell inflammation is linked to hardening of blood vessels over time, making it harder to get an IV into the vessel.

• Many mast cell patients have connective tissue disorders like Ehler Danlos Syndrome. In these patients, their connective tissue may not properly hold the blood vessels in the right place, making it harder to get an IV into the vein.

• I have a weird observation to add to the “Reasons IV’s are difficult to place in mast cell patients” list. I have found that for the past fifteen years, anytime I had an IV removed, something weird happened. There was some kind of deposit at the IV site. It felt “sandy” and kind of “crunchy”. Whatever was there was solid as I was able to roll it up and down the blood vessel in my arm. I now refer to this as “mast cell deposition” for want of a better term. Once the deposit was gone, which would take weeks, I could no longer get an IV at that site or below it. They would try to place an IV in one of those spots and it hurt a lot and just wouldn’t work. It was bizarre. All of my doctors are stumped. I have two theories: local mast cells have a huge inflammatory response that attracts way more immune cells that normal; or,  that those little sandy bits are platelets all clumped together since mast cells release platelet activating factor. This is purely speculation. Does this happen to anyone else?

• If you are allergic to adhesives like Tegaderm, be aware at Tegaderm is what comes in IV kits to put over the IV once it is placed. If you react to Tegaderm, be sure to remind your nurse when placing the IV that you cannot use Tegaderm and will need another kind of dressing. 

Moist heat can help blood vessels to relax and become larger, making them easier to find and to place an IV there. What worked for me was running a facecloth under really hot water, wringing it out, and letting the facecloth sit on my arm for about ten minutes before attempting to draw blood.

Mast cells are involved in inflammation of the blood vessels. If the mast cells irritate the blood vessels enough, vasculitis can occur. This may be local (close to the site of the IV) or diffuse (more widespread and affection many blood vessels.) Mast cell patients may develop vasculitis from the IV.

GI scoping is performed with twilight sedation. Typically, IV medications are given to patients to help with the discomfort and anxiety associated with procedure. These medications including propofol, midazolam, and fentanyl. There are no particular concerns for the use of these medications in mast cell patient. (These are the meds I use when I get scoped.)

Mast cell patients should premedicate prior to GI scopes starting the day before the procedure. The general recommendation for premedication uses H1 and H2 antihistamines, leukotriene inhibitors, and corticosteroids. You can find this protocol here:
- Prednisone 50 mg orally (20mg for children under 12) 24 hours and 1-2 hours before procedure
- Diphenhydramine 25-50 mg orally (12.5 mg for children under twelve) OR hydroxyzine 25mg orally, 1 hour before procedure
- Ranitidine 150mg orally (20mg for children under 12) 1 hour before procedure
- Montelukast 10mg orally (5mg for children under 5) 1 hour prior to procedure

Premedication is given in addition to regular daily meds.

• A number of patients, including myself, find that using IV antihistamines and corticosteroids before the procedure works better for us. I personally find this to be the case for me. Patients should work with their care team to amend their individual premedication procedure if necessary. My premedication protocol is:
- Prednisone 50mg orally 24 hours before procedure
- Diphenhydramine 50mg IV 1 hour before procedure
- Famotidine 40mg IV 1 hour before procedure
- Solu-medrol 40mg IV 1 hour before procedure

• Patients should be aware that IV diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is sclerotic to blood vessels. This means that the use of IV Benadryl can irritate or damage blood vessels. If using the IV Benadryl in a regular peripheral IV, this could cause irritation of the blood vessels. Dilution of the medication and pushing it slowly through the IV can help to avoid this.

• I personally dilute IV Benadryl in saline (1mL of Benadryl to 9mL of normal saline) and push it through the port over five minutes. I then push the saline flush over five minutes. Last summer, I had a midline placed so that I could deaccess my port in the hopes the ulcer at my access site would heal. A midline is basically one step above a regular IV. They aren’t intended for long term use and they aren’t central lines. Medication pushed through it enters the body is a small vein. With central lines like ports, the medication enters the body into a very large vein that blood is moving through very quickly. I got a really nasty case of local vasculitis from pushing benadryl through the midline. I was diluting each dose 1mL of Benadryl to 50mL of saline and it still hurt. We had to pull the midline after only nine days and I had to go back to using my port. Patients should work with their care team to determine if dilution and slow pushing is necessary in their individual cases.

Touching the GI tract from the inside causes massive mast cell activation. This triggers huge degranulation of mast cells throughout the GI tract. The chemicals released can trigger the activation of mast cells in other parts of the body. The degranulation of mast cells in the GI tract also contributes to a condition called ileusPremedication helps to lessen the severity of activation and degranulation.

Patients should not have to discontinue mast cell medications prior to scoping. If patients are on NSAIDs to block prostaglandin production, like aspirin, the provider may request that this med be skipped on the day of the procedure. However, this is at the discretion of the provider and is a decision specific to each patient. (Author’s Note: Many thanks to MastAttack admin Pari who reminded me of an important note regarding meds and biopsies. A number of mast cell patients also have eosinophilic GI disease. When biopsying for EGID, use of steroids, which is part of the mast cell premed protocol, will skew the results. Mast cell patients who have EGID or who are suspected to have it should speak with their care team about whether or not they need to avoid steroids and for how long in advance of a scope.)

• Patients may find their symptoms are worse than baseline in the days following the procedure. Many people find that increasing antihistamines for a few days can help to mitigate these symptoms. For example, some people do a Benadryl taper. I used to do the same before I ended up taking Benadryl every day. It goes like this:

Day One: 50mg Benadryl ever 4 hours

-Day Two: 50mg Benadryl every 6 hours

-Day Three: 50mg Benadryl every 6 hours

-Day Four: 50mg Benadryl every 12 hours

-Day Five: 50mg Benadryl every 12 hours

Patients should discuss this with their care team to see if this is appropriate for them.

• For many patients, the hardest part of lower GI scoping is the bowel prep. Bowel preping is inherently mast cell activating. Everyone has mast cells in their GI tract. Mast cell patients often have more mast cells than usual in their GI tract. The bowel prep procedure increases GI motility, leading to mast cell activation. Patients should be aware that these increased symptoms, while unpleasant, are not generally dangerous. Patients should ask their care team whether or not they should discontinue the prep or go to the emergency department if certain severe symptoms occur.

• The standard prep for colonoscopies uses some version of polyethylene glycol, things like Miralax or Golytely. Like everything else, there is no way to predict whether or not a patient with react to it. There are alternative preparation protocols for people who can’t use polyethylene glycol. My prep plan is as follows:
 Two days before the scope: 1 bottle of magnesium sulfate, 600mg oral docusate sodium, consume clear fluids only
- One day before the scope: 1 bottle of magnesium sulfate, 600mg oral docusate sodium, consume clear fluids only
- The day of the scope: 2 saline enemas, the first one given two hours before leaving the house, the second one given one hour before leaving the house

• Biopsies should be taken during scopes. Mast cells can cause inflammation on the cellular level and the tissue may be inflamed despite looking normal during the scope.

• Biopsies should be tested using immunohistochemistry (IHC) for the markers CD117, CD2, and CD25. CD117 will show any mast cells present. CD2 and CD25 are markers that are found on the mast cells of many patients with systemic mastocytosis.

• Sometimes providers order the lab to look for mast cells using regular microscopy staining instead of IHC. Toluidine blue and Giemsa-Wright are both stains that can show mast cells. However, IHC is much more accurate than using these stains. Mast cells could be missed by using these stains instead of IHC.

There is not usually enough mast cell DNA in GI biopsies to accurately test for CKIT D816V mutation, a DNA mutation that is associated with mastocytosis.

• You can find additional information on how to test these biopsies here.

There is not a universal way to report the number of mast cells seen with microscope in a GI biopsy that has been put on a slide. One of the more common ways to do this is to count the mast cells in five different high powered microscopy fields (hpf) and then average the counts.

There was an excellent paper published in 2014 called “Perioperative Management of Patients with Mastocytosis.” It is free and publicly available. You can find it here. I encourage you to bring this paper with you to the appointment. The paper discusses all the triggers we experience from surgery and how to medicate patients properly for the procedure. Even though GI scoping is not the same as surgery, the vast majority of advice on surgery in mast cell patients also applies to scoping procedures.

For further reading, please visit the following posts:

Premedication and surgical concerns in mast cell patients

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 5

Third spacing

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 77

90. What causes pain in mast cell disease?

  • Most mast cell patients experience some kind of pain. Because mast cells are involved in pain sensation and inflammation, mast cell patients are at risk of pain by different mechanisms throughout their body.
  • Mast cells are involved in nerve pain. Mast cells often live very close to nerves, sometimes so close they are touching. When nerve cells feel pain, they release mediators to activate mast cells. The mast cells then activate other nearby nerve cells. The result of this is that the brain gets a pain signal from lots of nerves, not just the nerves that initially felt the pain, so the pain you feel is worse.
  • Mast cells participate in inflammation. One of the big things they do is send signals to other immune cells to come to the site of inflammation. These cells release mediators that can cause pain or make it worse. Nerve cells nearby will send a stronger pain signal again in response to these immune cells causing inflammation.
  • Mast cells are involved in hyperalgesia, when your nerves are very sensitive and send a stronger than normal pain response to things that shouldn’t normally be very painful. For this reason, many mast cell patients have a heightened pain response, even to things that aren’t normally very painful.
  • Mast cells are associated with a number of chronic pain conditions.
  • Visceral pain is when you feel pain in your internal organs, like your GI tract or your liver. Visceral pain is often not localized so it can be hard to tell what is actually hurting. Mast cell patients often report visceral pain.
  • Pelvic pain is linked to mast cell activation and can cause serious symptoms, including painful sex. Pelvic floor dysfunction is sometimes seen in mast cell patients. Interstitial cystitis, chronic inflammation of the bladder, is also driven by mast cells, although it’s not exactly clear how.
  • Mast cells are major players in GI pain. Mast cell degranulation activates the nerves inside the GI tract, which can cause abdominal pain. This causes pain in a number of GI diseases aside from mast cell disease.
  • Many mast cell patients have connective tissue disease like Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This can cause the organs to not be supported properly, causing them to move around, activating a pain response.
  • Mast cells can cause bone pain in multiple ways. In systemic mastocytosis, production of so many mast cells in the bone marrow can cause pressure inside the bone that causes pain. Mast cell mediators can cause dysregulation of the system that degrades old parts of the bone and replaces it with new, stronger bone. This can cause the bones to be too thick or too thin. Mast cell patients may have bone disorders as a result and should be especially watchful for Mast cell mediators like histamine can also irritate the cells on the outside of the bone, causing pain.
  • Mast cell activation can cause headaches and migraines. Mast cell mediators can affect how much blood is getting to the head and brain, which can cause pain. Many mast cell patients have POTS, which can also cause the same problem.
  • Systemic mastocytosis patients can have dense infiltration of their organs by mast cells. This infiltration punches holes in the tissue, leading to inflammation and pain.
  • Cutaneous mastocytosis patients have similar issues with infiltration of the skin.
  • Infiltration is NOT necessary for mast cell activation to cause pain.
  • Mast cell patients have to be cautious in how they treat their pain as many medications for pain management can cause mast cell degranulation.
  • NSAIDs can be used in patients that tolerate them.
  • Acetaminophen and tramadol are considered mast cell friendly.
  • Gabapentin and pregabalin are sometimes used for neurologic pain in mast cell patients.
  • If opiates are needed, fentanyl and hydromorphone are preferred. Morphine is a massive mast cell degranulator and should be avoided.
  • Certain numbing medications can trigger mast cells, like ester caine anesthetics.
  • Cyclobenzamide is a muscle relaxer commonly used in mast cell patients.

 

For more information, please visit the following posts:

Mast cells in nerve pain

The Provider Primer Series: Medications that impact mast cell degranulation and anaphylaxis

Premedication and surgical concerns in mast cell patients

The Sex Series – Part Six: Male pelvic floor and mast cells

The Sex Series – Part Eight: Female pelvic floor dysfunction

The Sex Series – Part Nine: Female pelvic floor dysfunction

 

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 76

I get asked a lot about how mast cell disease can affect common blood test results. I have broken this question up into several more manageable pieces so I can thoroughly discuss the reasons for this. The next few 107 series posts will cover how mast cell disease can affect red blood cell count; white blood cell count, including the counts of specific types of white blood cells; platelet counts; liver function tests; kidney function tests; electrolytes; clotting tests; and a few miscellaneous tests.

89. How does mast cell disease affect platelet counts?

Before I continue, I want to explain one basic fact. Even though they are often included in the term “blood cells”, platelets are not actually cells. They are actually pieces of an original large cell called a megakaryocyte that lives in the bone marrow. Even though platelets are not really cells, they more or less act like they are.

An unusual thing about platelets is that sometimes a specific trigger can cause platelets to become lower or higher.

There are several ways in which mast cell disease can make platelet counts lower.

  • Swelling of the spleen. This can happen in some forms of systemic mastocytosis, and may also happen in some patients with mast cell activation syndrome, although the reason why it happens in MCAS is not as clear. Swelling of the spleen can damage blood cells and platelets, causing lower platelet counts. If the spleen is very stressed and working much too hard, a condition called hypersplenism, the damage to blood cells and platelets is much more pronounced. This may further lower platelet counts. Hypersplenism occurs in aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell leukemia. It is not a feature of other forms of systemic mastocytosis and I am not aware of any cases as a result of mast cell activation syndrome.
  • Medications. Some medications that are used to manage mast cell disease can cause low red blood cell count. Chemotherapies, including targeted chemotherapies like tyrosine kinase inhibitors, can cause low platelet counts. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used by some mast cell patients to decrease production of prostaglandins. They can interfere with platelet production in the bone marrow. Proton pump inhibitors, often used by mast cell patients to help with GI symptoms like heart burn, can decrease platelet coun Some H2 antihistamines can also lower platelet production. However, none of these H2 antihistamines are currently used in medicine.
  • Heparin induced thrombocytopenia. Mast cells make and release large amounts of heparin, a powerful blood thinner. When there is an excessive amount of heparin circulating, it can cause your body to incorrectly produce antibodies that cause an immune response to heparin. A side effect of this situation is that platelets are activated incorrectly, which can lead to the formation of blood clots and low platelet counts. Heparin induced thrombocytopenia has only been definitively described in patients who receive medicinal heparin as a blood thinner. However, it is reasonable to assume that this situation can also affect mast cell patients who have higher than normal levels of platelets circulating in the blood.
  • Liver damage. Liver damage is associated with malignant forms of systemic mastocytosis such as aggressive systemic mastocytosis and mast cell leukemia. Liver damage can also occur as the result of IV nutrition, which is sometimes needed by patients with mastocytosis or mast cell activation syndrome. When the liver is damaged enough, it may not make enough of the molecules that tell the bone marrow to make platelets.
  • Excessive production of blood cells. In very aggressive forms of systemic mastocytosis, aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell leukemia, the bone marrow is making huge amounts of mast cells. As a result, the bone marrow makes fewer platelets and cells of other types.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Chronic inflammation can affect the way your body absorbs vitamins and minerals through the GI tract, and the way it uses vitamins and minerals that it does absorb. Deficiency of vitamin B12 or folate can decrease platelet production.
  • Excess fluid in the bloodstream (hypervolemia). In this situation, the body doesn’t actually have too few platelets, it just looks like it. If your body loses a lot of fluid to swelling (third spacing) and that fluid is mostly reabsorbed at once, the extra fluid in the bloodstream can make it look like there are too few platelets if they do a blood test. This can also happen if a patient receives a lot of IV fluids.

There are also reasons why mast cell disease can cause the body to make too many platelets.

  • Anemia of chronic inflammation. This is when chronic inflammation in the body affects the way the body absorbs and uses iron. It can result in iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can increase platelet counts.
  • Hemolytic anemia. In hemolytic anemia, the body destroys red blood cells. This can happen for several reasons that may be present in mast cell patients. Hemolytic anemia can increase platelet counts.
  • Iron deficiency. Iron deficiency for any reason can elevate platelet counts.
  • Excessive bleeding. Mast cell disease can cause excessive bleeding in several ways. Mast cells release lots of heparin, a very potent blood thinner that decreases clotting. This makes it easier for the body to bleed. It is not unusual for mast cell patients to have unusual bruising. Bleeding in the GI tract can also occur. Mast cell disease can cause ulceration, fissures, and hemorrhoids, among other things. Mast cell disease can contribute to dysregulation of the menstrual cycle, causing excessive bleeding in this way. It is not unusual for mast cell patients to have GI bleeding, as well as ulceration, fissures, and hemorrhoids.
  • Sustained GI inflammation. Sustained GI inflammatory disease can cause elevated levels of platelets. Given what we know about mast cell driven GI inflammation, it is reasonable to infer that mast cell GI effects and damage may also elevate platelet levels.
  • Clot formation. If a large clot forms, it can affect the amount of platelets circulating in the blood. Some mast cell patients require central lines for regular use of IV therapies or to preserve IV access in the event of an emergency. Blood clots can form on the outside surface of the line, inside the line, or between the line and the wall of the blood vessel it is in.
  • General inflammation. Platelets are activated by a variety of molecules released when the body is inflamed for any reason. This can translate to increased levels of platelet production.
  • Allergic reactions. Platelets can be directly activated by mast cell degranulation through molecules like platelet activating factor (PAF).
  • Heparin. Heparin can cause platelet levels to increase. As I mentioned above, it can also cause platelet levels to decrease.
  • Removal of the spleen. The spleen can become very stressed and work too hard, a condition called This situation is remedied by removing the spleen. Hypersplenism occurs in aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell leukemia. It is not a feature of other forms of systemic mastocytosis and I am not aware of any cases as a result of mast cell activation syndrome.
  • Glucocorticoids. In particular, prednisone is known to increase platelet counts. Prednisone and other glucocorticoids can be used for several reasons in mast cell patients.
  • Third spacing. If a lot of fluid from the bloodstream becomes trapped in tissues (third spacing), there is less fluid in the bloodstream so it makes it look like there are too many cells. As I mentioned above, this is not really a scenario where you are making too many red blood cells, it just looks like that on a blood test.

For additional reading, please visit the following posts:

Anemia of chronic inflammation

Effect of anemia on mast cells

Mast cell disease and the spleen

MCAS: Anemia and deficiencies

Mast cells, heparin and bradykinin: The effects of mast cells on the kinin-kallikrein system

MCAS: Blood, bone marrow and clotting

Third spacing

Gastrointestinal manifestations of SM: Part 1

Gastrointestinal manifestations of SM: Part 2

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 72

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 73

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 75

I get asked a lot about how mast cell disease can affect common blood test results. I have broken this question up into several more manageable pieces so I can thoroughly discuss the reasons for this. The next few 107 series posts will cover how mast cell disease can affect red blood cell count; white blood cell count, including the counts of specific types of white blood cells; platelet counts; liver function tests; kidney function tests; electrolytes; clotting tests; and a few miscellaneous tests.

 

88. How does mast cell disease affect white blood cell counts?

Firstly, remember that while mast cells are technically considered white blood cells, they don’t actually live in the blood. That means that except in very severe malignant cases of aggressive systemic mastocytosis and mast cell leukemia, mast cells won’t directly contribute to white blood cell count in a blood test at all. This means that in a regular white blood cell level blood test, none of those cells are mast cells.

There are a couple of ways in which mast cell disease can cause low white blood cell counts. It can also cause low counts of certain types of white blood cells even if it doesn’t cause low white blood cell count overall.

  • Swelling of the spleen. This can happen in some forms of systemic mastocytosis, and may also happen in some patients with mast cell activation syndrome, although the reason why it happens in MCAS is not as clear. Swelling of the spleen can damage blood cells, including white blood cells, causing lower white blood cell counts. If the spleen is very stressed and working much too hard, a condition called hypersplenism, the damage to blood cells is much more pronounced. This may further lower the white blood cell count. Hypersplenism occurs in aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell leukemia. It is not a feature of other forms of systemic mastocytosis and I am not aware of any cases as a result of mast cell activation syndrome.
  • Medications. Some medications for mast cell disease can cause low white blood cell count. These are not common medications, but are sometimes used, especially in patients with long term symptoms that have not responded to other medications, or where organs could potentially be damaged, like in smoldering or aggressive systemic mastocytosis, or severe mast cell activation syndrome. These include medications like cyclosporine and interferon.
  • Chemotherapy. These medications can also decrease white blood cell count. Chemotherapy is used in smoldering systemic mastocytosis, aggressive systemic mastocytosis, and mast cell leukemia. It is sometimes also used in very aggressive presentations of mast cell activation syndrome. Newer chemotherapies are more targeted and can cause fewer side effects. However, all of the chemotherapies used for mast cell disease can cause the side effect of low blood cell counts, including white blood cell count.
  • Myelofibrosis. Myelofibrosis is a myeloproliferative neoplasm that is related to systemic mastocytosis. In myelofibrosis, the bone marrow becomes filled with deposits of scar tissue so that the body cannot make blood cells correctly or in normal numbers. This can decrease white blood cell counts.
  • Excess fluid in the bloodstream (hypervolemia). In this situation, the body doesn’t actually have too few red blood cells, it just looks like it. If your body loses a lot of fluid to swelling (third spacing) and that fluid is mostly reabsorbed at once, the extra fluid in the bloodstream can make it look like there are too few red cells if they do a blood test. This can also happen if a patient receives a lot of IV fluids.

Even if the overall white blood cell count is normal, mast cell patients sometimes have low levels of certain types of white blood cells.

  • Anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can cause basophils to be low.
  • Allergic reactions. These can also cause basophils to be low.
  • Chronic urticaria. Chronic hives and rashes can cause basophils to be low.
  • Use of corticosteroids like prednisone elevates certain types of white blood cells while suppressing others. Lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils can also be low from using corticosteroids like prednisone.
  • Prolonged physical stress. Mast cell disease can cause a lot of damage to the body over time, triggering a chronic stress response. This can selectively lower the amount of lymphocytes and the eosinophils in the body.
  • Autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease often causes one type of white blood cell to be high and another to be low. Many mast cell patients have autoimmune diseases, so while this is not directly caused by mast cell disease, it often occurs in mast cell patients. For example, rheumatoid arthritis can cause low neutrophils.

There are many more ways that mast cell disease can trigger high white blood cell counts, or high amounts of certain types of white blood cells.

  • Inflammation. Any type of chronic inflammation can cause high white blood cell counts and mast cell disease causes a lot of inflammation.
  • Medications. Use of corticosteroids especially can cause high white blood cell counts. Epinephrine and beta-2 agonists like salbutamol/albuterol, used to open the airway, can also cause high white blood cell counts.
  • Autoimmune disease. Many mast cell patients have autoimmune diseases, so while this is not directly caused by mast cell disease, it often occurs in mast cell patients.

There are several instances where mast cell disease can trigger elevated levels of certain subsets of white blood cells.

  • Swelling of the spleen. I mentioned above that spleen swelling can damage blood cells, causing their levels to be low. Paradoxically, sometimes having a swollen spleen can cause lymphocytes to be high. There are several theories about why this may occur but there is no definitive answer currently.
  • GI inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the GI tract can cause the body to overproduce monocytes. Certain types of inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis, can cause high basophils.
  • Allergies. Allergic reactions of any kind will elevate both basophils and eosinophils.
  • Mast cell activation of eosinophils. Mast cells activate eosinophils, which activate mast cells. It is a nasty cycle that causes a lot of symptoms and can be very damaging to organs affected. It is not unusual for mast cell patients to have high numbers of circulating eosinophils. It is also not unusual for mast cell patients to have higher than expected numbers of eosinophils in biopsies, especially GI biopsies. Eosinophilic GI disease also has some overlap with mast cell disease so some patients have both.
  • Mast cell activation of basophils. Basophils are closely related to mast cells and also degranulate in response to allergic triggers and during anaphylaxis.
  • Autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease often causes one type of white blood cell to be high and another to be low. Many mast cell patients have autoimmune diseases, so while this is not directly caused by mast cell disease, it often occurs in mast cell patients. For example, lupus can cause eosinophilia.
  • Anemia. Iron deficiency is common in mast cell disease. Iron deficiency anemia can increase basophil levels.
  • Vascular inflammation. Mast cell activation has been repeatedly linked to inflammation of blood vessels. This can elevate blood monocyte level.
  • Medication. Use of corticosteroids like prednisone directly increase neutrophil levels.
  • Proliferation of myeloid cells. Overproduction of certain types of blood cells by the bone marrow, including mast cells, can elevate basophils.
  • Obesity. Obesity has been linked many times to chronic inflammation. Mast cell disease can directly cause weight gain by causing high levels of the hormone leptin. Obesity may cause high levels of monocytes.
  • Third spacing. If a lot of fluid from the bloodstream becomes trapped in tissues (third spacing), there is less fluid in the bloodstream so it makes it look like there are too many cells. As I mentioned above, this is not really a scenario where you are making too many white blood cells, it just looks like that on a blood test.

For additional reading, please visit the following posts:

Allergic effector unit: The interactions between mast cells and eosinophils

Anemia of chronic inflammation

Effect of anemia on mast cells

Explain the tests: Complete blood cell count (CBC) – White blood cell count

Explain the tests: Complete blood cell count (CBC) – High white blood cell count

Explain the tests: Complete blood cell count (CBC) – Low white blood cell count

Mast cell disease and the spleen

MCAS: Anemia and deficiencies

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 72

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 73

Third spacing

 

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 74

I get asked a lot about how mast cell disease can affect common blood test results. I have broken this question up into several more manageable pieces so I can thoroughly discuss the reasons for this. The next few 107 series posts will cover how mast cell disease can affect red blood cell count; white blood cell count, including the counts of specific types of white blood cells; platelet counts; liver function tests; kidney function tests; electrolytes; clotting tests; and a few miscellaneous tests.

  1. How does mast cell disease affect red blood cell counts?

There are several ways in which mast cell disease can make red blood cell count lower.

  • Anemia of chronic inflammation. This is when chronic inflammation in the body affects the way the body absorbs and uses iron. It can result in iron deficiency. Iron is used to make hemoglobin, the molecule used by red blood cells to carry around oxygen to all the places in the body that need it. If there’s not enough iron to make hemoglobin, the body will not make a normal amount of red blood cells.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Like I mentioned above, chronic inflammation can affect the way your body absorbs vitamins and minerals through the GI tract, and the way it uses vitamins and minerals that it does absorb. While iron deficiency is the most obvious example of this, deficiency of vitamin B12 or folate can also slow red cell production.
  • Swelling of the spleen. This can happen in some forms of systemic mastocytosis, and may also happen in some patients with mast cell activation syndrome, although the reason why it happens in MCAS is not as clear. Swelling of the spleen can damage blood cells, including red blood cells, causing lower red blood cell counts. If the spleen is very stressed and working much too hard, a condition called hypersplenism, the damage to blood cells is much more pronounced. This may further lower the red blood cell count. Hypersplenism occurs in aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell leukemia. It is not a feature of other forms of systemic mastocytosis and I am not aware of any cases as a result of mast cell activation syndrome.
  • Medications. Some medications that are used to manage mast cell disease can cause low red blood cell count. Chemotherapies, including targeted chemotherapies like tyrosine kinase inhibitors, can cause low red blood cell count. Medications that specifically interfere with the immune system can do the same thing, including medications for autoimmune diseases like mycophenolate. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used by some mast cell patients to decrease production of prostaglandins. They can interfere with red blood cell production in the bone marrow and also cause hemolytic anemia, when the immune system attacks red blood cells after they are made and damages them.
  • Excessive bleeding. Mast cell disease can cause excessive bleeding in several ways. Mast cells release lots of heparin, a very potent blood thinner that decreases clotting. This makes it easier for the body to bleed. It is not unusual for mast cell patients to have unusual bruising. Bleeding in the GI tract can also occur. Mast cell disease can cause ulceration, fissures, and hemorrhoids, among other things. Mast cell disease can contribute to dysregulation of the menstrual cycle, causing excessive bleeding in this way.
  • Excessive production of other types of blood cells. In very aggressive forms of systemic mastocytosis, aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell leukemia, the bone marrow is making huge amounts of mast cells. As a result, the bone marrow makes fewer cells of other types, including red blood cells. Some medications can also increase production of other blood types, causing less production of red cells. Corticosteroids can do this.
  • Excess fluid in the bloodstream (hypervolemia). In this situation, the body doesn’t actually have too few red blood cells, it just looks like it. If your body loses a lot of fluid to swelling (third spacing) and that fluid is mostly reabsorbed at once, the extra fluid in the bloodstream can make it look like there are too few red cells if they do a blood test. This can also happen if a patient receives a lot of IV fluids.

There are also a couple of scenarios where mast cell disease can make the red blood cell count higher. This is much less common.

  • Chronically low oxygen. If a person is not getting enough oxygen for a long period of time, the body will make more red blood cells in an effort to compensate for the low oxygen. This could happen in mast cell patients with poor oxygenation.
  • Third spacing. If a lot of fluid from the bloodstream becomes trapped in tissues (third spacing), there is less fluid in the bloodstream so it makes it look like there are too many cells. As I mentioned above, this is not really a scenario where you are making too many red blood cells, it just looks like that on a blood test.

For additional reading, please visit the following posts:

Anemia of chronic inflammation

Effect of anemia on mast cells

Effects of estrogen and progesterone and the role of mast cells in pregnancy

Explain the tests: Complete blood cell count (CBC) – Low red cell count

Explain the tests: Complete blood cell count (CBC) – High red cell count

Explain the tests: Complete blood cell count (CBC) – Red cell indices

Gastrointestinal manifestations of SM: Part 1

Gastrointestinal manifestations of SM: Part 2

Mast cell disease and the spleen

Mast cells, heparin and bradykinin: The effects of mast cells on the kinin-kallikrein system

MCAS: Anemia and deficiencies

MCAS: Blood, bone marrow and clotting

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

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 12

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 19

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 20

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 45

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 72

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 73

Third spacing

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 65

79. Do probiotics help GI symptoms from mast cell disease?

  • Some people may not be aware of this, but my first science love was microbiology. I love bacteria. They are my teeny little super guys. Mostly because they make the world go round. <3
  • Yes, probiotics help symptoms from mast cell disease.
  • Your body is populated with millions and millions of microbes in just about every place where your body comes into contact with the outside world. This is mostly skin, GI tract, GU tract, and upper respiratory tract.
  • This is an example of symbiosis: the science term for “everybody wins.” Microbes get a steady source of food and protection from the outside world by living attached to some part of us. In return, they help us to break down molecules, make vitamins for us, and help protect us from infections by taking up all the available microbe real estate. If there’s already friendly bacteria (or yeast) living in every available place where microbes could attach to us, that helps to protect us from not so friendly microbes who need a place to latch on.
  • Antibiotics and antimicrobials are in tons of over the counter of products. We are in an age where antibiotics and antimycotics are being used more than ever, often in situations where they can’t even provide benefit.
  • These have the effect of killing off all the helpful microbes, leaving us in a situation where the ones that are left are the most resistant to treatment. This is a huge problem for a number of reasons, the biggest one being the genesis of super bugs, antibiotic resistant organisms that we can’t kill.
  • But there’s another big reason: when you kill off helpful bacteria, it affects our day to day bodily functions. Our bodies have evolved to have this symbiotic relationship with these organisms for millennia. When we kill all those little super guys off, our body is open to infections and situations that cause inflammation.
  • The population of microbes that normally lives happily inside our healthy bodies is called our commensal. If it’s in the GI tract, it’s called the GI commensal.
  • We know for sure that food allergies is related at least partially to changes in the GI commensal.
  • There are a number of experiments that show that if you take the GI commensal out of a healthy mouse and transplant it into a food allergic mouse, that mouse is no longer food allergic. We also know that if you take the GI commensal out of a food allergic mouse and transplant it into a healthy mouse, now you have two food allergic mice.
  • Probiotics contain microbes that you can use to replace the good ones that have been killed off. Mast cell patients, and patients with other inflammatory GI diseases, report a lot of benefit with using probiotics. Mast cell patients have to be careful and need to be sure to look up the ingredients of every probiotic they try, as many of them contain triggers, like lactose. VSL3 often works pretty well in people who are reactive. Culturelle is used by lots of patients. It depends on a lot. Your mileage may vary.
  • People with central lines should use caution and always be sure to wash hands and sterilize surfaces between taking probiotics and using their lines. These organisms are not supposed to be introduced to the bloodstream and could potentially cause infections, especially in people with depressed immunity.
  • I would to give a shout out to MastAttack admin, Pari, who is the most relentless advocate for probiotics I have ever seen. She cares more about your use of probiotics than I care about most things.

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 55

69. What routine monitoring should mast cell patients receive?

There are not yet routine testing recommendations for MCAS patients, but there are some for mastocytosis patients. Many doctors use the mastocytosis recommendations to monitor their MCAS patients in the absence of specific MCAS guidelines.

Mastocytosis patients should monitor tryptase level annually. In mastocytosis patients, tryptase level is often a good marker for how many mast cells are in the body (although this is not always true.) If a patient’s tryptase is increasing over time, the provider will need to check other things to see if their disease is moving to a more serious disease category.

DEXA scans measure bone density. Osteoporosis is a common complication of systemic mastocytosis. Patients should receive regular osteoporosis screening, even if they are young.

Mastocytosis patients usually receive routine bloodwork annually that includes a complete blood count (CBC), which counts the amount of blood cells a person has; and a metabolic panel, which looks at how well the liver and kidneys are working.

Repeat biopsies are usually only done if the result will change treatment in some way. Most patients with systemic mastocytosis are diagnosed based upon bone marrow biopsies. These don’t usually need to be repeated unless tryptase level increases sharply or there are unusual results in routine blood count testing. Increasing tryptase can indicate that the body is making more mast cells much faster, which is sometimes linked to a more serious disease category. Unusual blood cell counts can indicate not just too many abnormal mast cells, but also other bone marrow conditions sometimes seen in mast cell patients, like myelofibrosis and essential thrombocythemia.

Patients with cutaneous mastocytosis are diagnosed by skin biopsy. There is not usually a need to repeat a skin biopsy for patients with CM.

Patients with systemic mastocytosis are usually diagnosed by bone marrow biopsy but can also be diagnosed as a result of a positive biopsy in any organ that is not the skin. A person can be diagnosed with SM via a GI biopsy.

GI biopsies are a little different than bone marrow biopsies in that there are sometimes reasons to repeat them. GI biopsies may be repeated to see if the general inflammation in the GI tract is improved or worsened. The provider may also be interested in whether or not the amount of mast cells in the GI tract has decreased. The result of GI biopsies often change treatment options so it is not unusual to repeat them. However, unlike bone marrow biopsies, repeated GI biopsies do not tell the provider if the mastocytosis is moving toward a more serious disease category or not.

MCAS patients are diagnosed based upon positive tests for molecules that indicate mast cells are overly active, like n-methylhistamine, and D2- or 9a,11b-F2 prostaglandins. Once the patient is diagnosed, there’s not a clear rationale for repeating these tests, although some providers do for their own information. Some providers like to check prostaglandin levels to see if treatment to stop mast cells from making prostaglandins (like use of aspirin or other NSAIDs) is helping.

However, it is important to understand that the level of mast cell mediators is not associated with symptoms. A person who has a normal level of 9a,11b-F2 prostaglandin may have the same symptoms as a person above the normal level, who may have the same symptoms as a person who has three times the normal level. For this reason, many providers consider these mediator tests to be less about the numerical value of the test and more about whether it’s normal or high, period.

For more detailed reading, please visit the following post:
The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 5
The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 6
The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 7
The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 8
The Provider Primer Series: Diagnostic criteria of systemic mastocytosis and all sub variants
The Provider Primer Series: Diagnosis and natural history of systemic mastocytosis (ISM, SSM, ASM)
The Provider Primer Series: Mediator testing
The Provider Primer Series: Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS)

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 46

56. Why do I react every time I eat?

When you swallow food, your nervous system sends signals to tell the cells in the stomach that food is on the way. As a result of this neurologic signal, hormones are released to tell your stomach to get ready to digest. These hormones cause histamine to be released by cells in the stomach. The histamine tells your stomach to make acid to digest your food. Solid food is more activating to the stomach in this way than liquids are.

This is a normal function of the body and happens in everyone, not just people with mast cell disease. However, histamine released in the stomach can activate mast cells and cause typical mast cell symptoms. Like everything else in mast cell disease, how much this affects patients varies a lot. But something to keep in mind is that a lot of mast cell patients who are “allergic to everything they eat” are actually reacting to the normal histamine release that contributes to digestion. They are essentially allergic not just to what they are eating, but to the process of eating.

57. Do I have to go to the hospital every time I use an epipen?

Unless you have received very explicit instructions not to do so from a health care provider that is familiar with the particulars of your life and your health, you need to go to the hospital every time you use an epipen. The reason for this is because an epipen is a temporary measure. The purpose of the epipen is to give you time to get to a hospital for more advanced care. Epinephrine is broken down by your body in a matter of minutes so it only provides a small window of protection. While many patients only need one epipen, there is no way to know if you will have another wave of anaphylaxis after the first one. Additionally, many patients require other medications and IV fluids to treat anaphylaxis. These can be provided at a hospital.

The reason you have to go to the hospital is to give you access to more comprehensive care, not because using an epipen is dangerous.

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 47

  1. 58. What is mastocytic enterocolitis?

A high powered field (hpf) is what you see through a microscope when you use powerful magnifying lenses. With very few exceptions, high powered fields using the same lenses are the same size. Since they are the same size, you can directly compare results from various groups all over the world.

In 2006, a paper was published that coined the term “mastocytic enterocolitis”. The author described mastocytic enterocolitis as more than 20 mast cells per high powered field. This paper was about people with severe chronic diarrhea that did not improve with treatment. The author found that healthy people had about 13 mast cells/hpf while people with severe chronic diarrhea had about 20 mast cells/hpf. The author felt that the extra mast cells were responsible for the diarrhea and inflammation so they called the extra mast cells in the colon and the small intestine “mastocytic enterocolitis”. Enterocolitis is the term for inflammation in the small intestine and colon.

The author felt that 20 mast cells/hpf was the cutoff between a normal amount of mast cells in the GI tract and an abnormal amount. Under 20 was considered normal while 20 and above was considered abnormal. However, there have been a number of papers since that look at how many mast cells are present in the GI tract for patients with different conditions as well as healthy people. There are several conditions that can cause you to have 20 or more mast cells/hpf. (I wrote an exhaustive series on this in 2015-2016. Links are below.)

Additionally, in some situations, people have over 20 mast cells/hpf without having any symptoms. Sometimes healthy people without any GI conditions have over 20 mast cells/hpf. For this reason, there is not agreement about how many mast cells in the GI tract is too many. (If you’re looking for my opinion, I think the number for what is too many is around 25-30/hpf. This is just my opinion.)

In the last several years, some doctors have begun linking mastocytic enterocolitis to mast cell disease. This makes sense because we know that in those people, mast cell inflammation drives GI symptoms and damage. Mast cell patients certainly have a lot of inflammation in the GI tract so having extra mast cells there makes sense. Some experts think that mastocytic enterocolitis is a sign of mast cell activation syndrome and that patients with mastocytic enterocolitis all have mast cell activation syndrome.

Mastocytic enterocolitis is absolutely a real phenomenon. In these people, mast cells cause a lot of GI symptoms and damage the GI tract. Experts have not all agreed upon whether or not everyone with mastocytic enterocolitis has mast cell disease. Also, there are some researchers that feel that mastocytic enterocolitis is actually its own mast cell disease rather than just a feature of another mast cell disease like mast cell activation syndrome.

Currently, mastocytic enterocolitis is not recognized by the WHO as its own disorder. However, that could certainly change. It was only last year that MCAS was recognized by the CDC even though it was routinely recognized by researchers and providers. (Author’s note: This was initially published stating that the WHO recognized MCAS, rather than the CDC. MCAS has not yet been recognized by the WHO. This is a whopper mistake on my part. Many thanks to the reader who saw this. Sorry!) I personally expect this to change in the next few years as more mast cell patients are diagnosed and mastocytic enterocolitis is better recognized. I think it is suggestive of mast cell disease but I also think providers need to eliminate other possible causes for the extra mast cells in the GI tract.

For more detailed information, please visit these posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)