The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 56

70. What is premedication and when should I do it?

Premedication is taking extra medication in advance of doing something that you expect to trigger your mast cells. The current premedication protocol for mast cell patients is as follows:
Prednisone 50mg orally (20mg for children under 12): 24 hours and 1-2 hours before procedure
• Diphenhydramine 25-50mg orally (12.5 mg for children under 12) 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

This protocol was developed for the Mastocytosis Society by Dr. Mariana Castells and the original can be found here.

This premedication protocol uses medications to interfere with the molecules mast cells release as well as medication to decrease the amount of molecules mast cells make and release. Diphenhydramine (called Benadryl in the US) stops histamine from getting to the H1 histamine receptors on the outsides of many cells. Ranitidine stops histamine from getting to the H2 histamine receptors on the outsides of many cells. In these ways, these medications can help to stop symptoms from histamine released by mast cells.
In a similar way, montelukast stops leukotrienes from getting to receptors on cells. This helps to curb some of the symptoms that occur when leukotrienes are released by mast cells.

Prednisone is a glucocorticoid, commonly called referred to as a “steroid.” This medication suppresses the production and release of inflammatory molecules by mast cells and other immune cells. Importantly, this medication can take hours to achieve maximum effect. This is why the first dose is the day before the event for which you are premedicating. By being dosed again a couple of hours before the event, it can also provide some additional protection for delayed reactions.

It is important to know that this premedication protocol may need to be changed to achieve the most effective protocol for individual patients. These recommendations are general and are not based upon study or clinical trial data.

This procedure is intended to be used for all major and minor medical procedures, including imaging tests like x-rays and MRIs, whether or not they use contrast. However, many patients find some benefit in premedicating for other types of events as well, such as flying, childbirth, and days of planned elevated physical or emotional stress. Patients should discuss what sorts of events are appropriate to premedicate for with a knowledgable provider.

For more detailed reading, please visit the following post:
Premedication and surgical concerns in mast cell patients

The Provider Primer Series: Relevance of mast cells in common health scenarios (continued)

Reason for care Post op care
Role of mast cells Mast cells are inherently activated following surgery as they drive tissue remodeling, angiogenesis, and wound repair.[i]

Mast cells are involved in the transmission of pain stimuli.[iii]

Impact of condition on mast cells Mechanical trauma or pressure, such as dressing a wound or palpating the area, can directly induce degranulation and mast cell activation[ii].

Pain can trigger mast cell activation.[iii]

Psychological and physical stress can trigger an inflammatory response that involves mast cell activation.[iv]

Notes regarding condition treatment NSAIDS can trigger mast cell degranulation and cannot be taken by some mast cell patients.[iv]

Codeine and derivatives can trigger mast cell degranulation[v].

Vancomycin, gyrase inhibitors and cefuroxime should be avoided where possible due to risk of mast cell activation.[vi]

Amide caine anesthetics are preferred over ester caines.[vi]

ACE inhibitors and β-adrenergic receptor antagonists (beta blockers) should be avoided. In particular, beta blockers directly interfere with the action of epinephrine and can impede anaphylaxis management.[vi]

Fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives are the preferred narcotic for mast cell patients due to low risk of degranulation. Hydromorphone and oxycodone are suggested by some authors and see use in mast cell patients.[vi]

Benzodiazepines can provide anxiolytic and anticonvulsive support in mast cell patients are needed.[vi]

IV contrast poses significant to mast cell patients due to the high risk of systemic degranulation. If required, premedication is advised.[vi]

Adhesive allergy is not unusual and patients may require specific occlusive dressings, tapes, or wound glue.

Notes regarding mast cell treatment Antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers can be helpful in mitigating common post op symptoms such as opiate induced itching and nausea. COX inhibitors can help with pain management.[vii]
Special considerations for mast cell patients Mast cells are the largest reservoir of endogenous heparin. Patient should be monitored for coagulopathy.[viii]

Mast cells contribute significantly to post operative ileus.[ix]

Intestinal manipulation directly results in mast cell degranulation.[ix]

 

Reason for care Hypertension
Role of mast cells Mast cell mediators can impact blood pressure. Histamine acting on H2 receptor can promote hypertension.[xi]

Renin, chymase, and carboxypeptidase A all participate in hypertension by dysregulation of angiotensin II.[xi]

9a,11b-PGF2, the degradation product of prostaglandin D2, thromboxane A2, and leukotrienes increase blood pressure.[xi]

Impact of condition on mast cells Dysregulation of angiotensin II and renin levels can affect mast cell behavior.[x]
Notes regarding condition treatment ACE inhibitors and β-adrenergic receptor antagonists (beta blockers) should be avoided. In particular, beta blockers directly interfere with the action of epinephrine and can impede anaphylaxis management. Alternatives include calcium channel blockers, renin inhibitors, and ivabradine, among others.[vi]
Notes regarding mast cell treatment Several mast cell medications can impact levels of histamine, renin, and angiotensin II, all of which can affect blood pressure.
Special considerations for mast cell patients Mast cell patients taking β-adrenergic receptor antagonists (beta blockers) should carry a glucagon pen to increase efficacy of epinephrine in anaphylaxis.[xi]

As many as 31% of patients with mast cell disease demonstrate elevated arterial blood pressure secondary to mast cell activation. These elevations may be episodic or chronic.[xi]

Mast cell patients may also have hyperadrenergic postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (hyperPOTS), a condition that can cause hypertension.[xii]

 

Reason for care Heart disease
Role of mast cells Renin, chymase, and carboxypeptidase A all participate in hypertension by dysregulation of angiotensin II, contributing to evolution of arrhythmia.[xi]

Prostaglandin D2, VIP, PAF, IL-6 and nitric oxide are all vasodilating and can contribute to tachycardia.[xi]

Tryptase, histamine, PAF, IL-10, TNF, IL-4, IL-6, FGF, and TGFB can contribute to heart failure.[xi]

Mast cells participate in the formation, destabilization and rupture of atherosclerotic lesions.[xiii]

Histamine release is associated with acute coronary syndromes such as Kounis Syndrome, commonly known as “allergic MI” or “allergic angina”.[xiv]

Leukotriene C4, adrenomedullin, tryptase and chymase participate in the formation, destabilization and rupture of aneurysms.[xiii]

Impact of condition on mast cells Heart disease, especially heart failure, can disrupt release of catecholamines including norepinephrine.[xv] Norepinephrine dysregulation can impact mast cell behavior.

Dysregulation of angiotensin II and renin levels can affect mast cell behaviorx

Notes regarding condition treatment NSAIDS can trigger mast cell degranulation. Some mast cell patients are unable to take them.xx

Acetaminophen is generally recommended for use in mast cell patients.[iv]

ACE inhibitors and β-adrenergic receptor antagonists (beta blockers) should be avoided. In particular, beta blockers directly interfere with the action of epinephrine and can impede anaphylaxis management. Alternatives include calcium channel blockers, renin inhibitors, and ivabradine, among others.[vi]

Notes regarding mast cell treatment COX inhibitors are routinely taken by mast cell patients and may provide relief of prostaglandin induced symptoms.[vi]

Several mast cell medications can impact levels of histamine, renin, and angiotensin II, all of which can affect blood pressure.

Epinephrine can provoke myocardial ischemia, prolong QT interval, and exacerbate coronary vasospasm and arrhythmia.[xiv]

Special considerations for mast cell patients Over 20% of systemic mastocytosis and mast cell activation syndrome patients experience palpitations and supraventricular tachycardia.[xi]

Prostaglandin D2 can cause tachycardia. PGD2 is associated with late phase allergic response and symptoms may be delayed for several hours after allergic event.[xi]

One study showed that 12/18 mast cell activation syndrome patients showed diastolic left ventricular dysfunction.[xi]

Mast cell patients may also have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that can cause blood pressure and heart rate irregularities.[xii]

 

Reason for care Chest pain
Role of mast cells Mast cells participate in the formation, destabilization and rupture of atherosclerotic lesions.[xiii]

Histamine release is associated with acute coronary syndromes such as Kounis Syndrome, commonly known as “allergic MI” or “allergic angina”.[xiv]

Leukotriene C4, adrenomedullin, tryptase and chymase participate in the formation, destabilization and rupture of aneurysms.[xiii]

Mast cells participate in esophageal inflammation in several models, including from acid reflux.[xvi]

Mast cells contribute to GI dysmotility which can cause esophageal spasms.[xvii]

Mast cells are involved in the transmission of pain stimuli.[iii]

Impact of condition on mast cells Pain can trigger mast cell activation.[iii]

Psychological and physical stress can trigger an inflammatory response that involves mast cell activation.[iv]

Notes regarding condition treatment NSAIDS can trigger mast cell degranulation. Some mast cell patients are unable to take them.xx

Acetaminophen is generally recommended for use in mast cell patients.[iv]

Fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives are the preferred narcotic for mast cell patients due to low risk of degranulation. Hydromorphone and oxycodone are suggested by some authors and see use in mast cell patients.[vi]

Benzodiazepines can provide anxiolytic and anticonvulsive support in mast cell patients are needed.[vi]

ACE inhibitors and β-adrenergic receptor antagonists (beta blockers) should be avoided. In particular, beta blockers directly interfere with the action of epinephrine and can impede anaphylaxis management. Alternatives include calcium channel blockers, renin inhibitors, and ivabradine, among others.[vi]

Notes regarding mast cell treatment COX inhibitors are routinely taken by mast cell patients and may provide relief of prostaglandin induced symptoms.[vi]
Special considerations for mast cell patients Mast cell patients may experience GI dysmotility which can cause esophageal spasms.[xviii]

Mast cell patients sometimes have eosinophilic esophagitis, causing esophageal spasms, food impaction, and pain.[xix]

Over 20% of systemic mastocytosis and mast cell activation syndrome patients experience palpitations and supraventricular tachycardia.[xi]

Prostaglandin D2 can cause tachycardia. PGD2 is associated with late phase allergic response and symptoms may be delayed for several hours after allergic event.[xi]

One study showed that 12/18 mast cell activation syndrome patients showed diastolic left ventricular dysfunction.[xi]

Mast cell patients can present with Kounis Syndrome. Management of Kounis Syndrome relies upon addressing both cardiovascular aspects of the episode as well as allergic aspects.[xiv]

Costochondritis can occur in mast cell patients and may present as chest pain.

Mast cell patients may also have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that can cause blood pressure and heart rate irregularities.[xii]

IV contrast poses significant to mast cell patients due to the high risk of systemic degranulation. If required, premedication is advised.[vi]

References:

[i] Douaiher J, et al. (2014). Development of mast cells and importance of their tryptase and chymase serine proteases in inflammation and wound healing. Adv Immunol, 122, 211-252.

[ii] Zhang D, et al. (2012). Mast-cell degranulation induced by physical stimuli involves the activation of transient receptor-potential channel TRPV2. Physiol Res, 61(1), 113-124.

[iii] Chatterjea D, Martinov T. (2015). Mast cells: versatile gatekeepers of pain. Mol Immunol, 63(1),38-44.

[iv] Dewachter P, et al. (2014). Perioperative management of patients with mastocytosis. Anesthesiology, 120, 753-759.

[v] Brockow K, Bonadonna P. (2012). Drug allergy in mast cell disease. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol, 12, 354-360.

[vi] Molderings GJ, et al. (2016). Pharma,ological treatment options for mast cell activation disease. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s Arch Pharmol, 389:671.

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

[viii] Carvalhosa AB, et al. (2015). A French national survey on clotting disorders in mastocytosis. Medicine (Baltimore), 94(40).

[ix] Peters EG, et al. (2015). The contribution of mast cells to postoperative ileus in experimental and clinical studies. Neurogastroenterol Motil, 27(6), 743-749.

[x] Biscotte SM, et al. (2007). Angiotensin II mediated activation of cardiac mast cells. The FASEB Journal, 21(6).

[xi] Kolck UW, et al. (2016). Cardiovascular symptoms in patients with systemic mast cell activation disease. Translation Research, x, 1-10.

[xii] Shibao C, et al. (2005). Hyperadrenergic postural tachycardia syndrome in mast cell activation disorders. Hypertension, 45, 385-390.

[xiii] Kennedy S, et al. (2013). Mast cells and vascular diseases. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 138, 53-65.

[xiv] Kounis NG. (2016). Kounis Syndrome: an update on epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis and therapeutic management. Clin Chem Lab Med, 54(10), 1545-1559.

[xv] Florea VG, Cohn JN. (2014). The autonomic nervous system and heart failure. Circulation Research, 114, 1815-1826.

[xvi] Morganstern JA, et al. (2008). Direct evidence of mast cell participation in acute acid-induced inflammation in mice. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr, 46(2), 134-138.

[xvii] De Winter BY, et al. (2012). Intestinal mast cells in gut inflammation and motility disturbances. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Molecular Basis of Disease, 1822(1), 66-73.

[xviii] De Winter BY, et al. (2012). Intestinal mast cells in gut inflammation and motility disturbances. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Molecular Basis of Disease, 1822(1), 66-73.

[xix] Nurko S, Rosen R. (2010). Esophageal dysmotility in patients with eosinophilic esophagitis. Gastrointest Endosc Clin N Am, 18(1), 73-ix.

Gastroparesis: Post-surgical gastroparesis (Part Four)

Surgery is also a common trigger for gastroparesis.  GI surgery is often complicated by post-operative ileus, in which the GI tract is temporarily paralyzed, at least partially due to mast cell degranulation.  Gastroparesis is often viewed as analogous to post-op ileus, localized to the stomach.  In patients with post-op infections or organ failure, GP is also seen sometimes.  The gastric inflammation associated with surgery inhibits motility acutely.

A number of surgeries have been associated with GP, especially those that manipulate the stomach.  Partial or complete removal of the stomach (gastrectomy) can cause GP.  Removal of all or part of the pancreas also induces gastroparesis in about 20% of patients.  It is most often seen alongside other post-op complications.

(Author’s note: the previous paragraph originally had a sentence that said the following: “6.9% of patients who undergo radical gastrectomy develop GP.”  This is not correct and nonsensical, I made a mistake when typing this up.  I deleted the sentence from the above paragraph, and added a new sentence a few paragraphs down that says: “In a study with over 500 patients who underwent radical gastrectomy for gastric cancer, 6.9% of patients had gastroparesis.”  Sorry for any confusion I may have caused with this error.)

7.2% of all reported gastroparesis cases occurred following gastrectomy or fundoplication, operations that manipulate the stomach.  Fundoplication, which “wraps” the stomach around the esophagus to decrease reflux, can damage nerves and interfere with stomach relaxation.  If vagus nerve function is damaged, GP can result, often with a dominant bloating presentation.  Overall, Nissen fundoplication is the most common cause of post-surgical gastroparesis.  A follow up surgery to revert to a partial fundoplication with pyloroplasty (“loosening the wrap”) can sometimes reverse the gastroparesis.

Bariatric (weight loss) surgery carries the risk of upper GI dysfunction.  While this most often affects the esophagus, GP is sometimes seen, and it is usually very severe and persistent.  Botox injections and gastric electrical stimulation are sometimes fruitful in this population.

Gastroparesis can also result from a number of surgeries that do not directly manipulate the stomach.  Most of these surgeries could result in vagus nerve damage and therefore impact upper GI motility.  Removal of part of the esophagus, botox injections for achalasia, lung transplantation and liver surgeries can all cause gastroparesis.  Conditions that require gastric surgery can directly cause gastroparesis prior to surgical intervention.  In a study with over 500 patients who underwent radical gastrectomy for gastric cancer, 6.9% of patients had gastroparesis.

Conversely, stomach surgery can sometimes alleviate gastroparesis symptoms.  Subtotal or complete gastrectomy improves symptom profiles in 67% of patients.  In one small patient cohort, 6/7 patients having subtotal gastrectomy had immediate resolution of vomiting, with significant improvement in quality of life for up to six years.  Patients who have nausea as a cardinal symptom, who have previously needed TPN, or who have had retained food in the stomach during endoscopy, are less likely to have resolution due to these surgeries.  Post-op ileus, wound infection, intestinal obstruction and anastomotic leakage are common complications of these surgeries to mitigate gastroparesis.

References:

Sarosiek, Irene, et al. Surgical approaches to treatment of gastroparesis: Gastric electrical stimulation, pyloroplasty, total gastrectomy and enteral feeding tubes.  Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 151-167.

Pasricha, Pankaj Jay, Parkman, Henry P. Gastroparesis: Definitions and Diagnosis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 1-7.

Parkman, H. P. Idiopathic Gastroparesis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 59-68.

Nguyen, Linda Anh, Snape Jr., William J. Clinical presentation and pathophysiology of gastroparesis.  Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 21-30.

Bharucha, Adil E. Epidemiology and natural history of gastroparesis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 9-19.

Camilleri, Michael, et al. Clinical guideline: Management of gastroparesis. Am J Gastroenterol 2013; 108: 18-37.

Gastroparesis: Treatment (part 2)

Initial management of gastroparesis often focuses on treating dehydration and electrolyte and nutritional deficits.  One study found that 64% of gastroparesis patients were not consuming enough daily calories to support the needs of their bodies, which can worsen symptoms.  Vitamins A, B6, C, and K, as well as iron, potassium and zinc are frequently deficient in this population.  Small meals low in fat and fiber are recommended for gastroparesis patients.  Liquids or blended solids often empty normally from the stomach.

For cases in which oral diet is unable to provide sufficient calories and nutrition, placement of a feeding tube may be necessary.  Jejunal feeding tubes are often used successfully.  Prior to surgical placement of a feeding tube, a nasojejunal tube should be used successfully.  PEG-J or Jet-PEG tubes allow venting of gastric secretions to reduce vomiting and nausea while providing a feeding route.

TPN (total parental nutrition) is given intravenously, but carries risks, including central line infections.  For patients in whom oral feeding is not feasible, a feeding tube is often considered the safer option.

Metoclopramide, a dopamine D2 receptor antagonist, is approved for treatment of gastroparesis.  However, treatment beyond 12 weeks should be considered only if the improvement on this medication is significant enough to outweigh risks.  Metoclopramide can cause dystonia and tardive dyskinesia.  Benzodiazepines and antihistamines are sometimes used to treat these side effects.  Domperidone is also a dopamine D2 receptor antagonist, but has lower incidence of side effects.  It is not approved in the US, but can be obtained via special FDA approval for US patients.

Medications to increase gastric motor activity, like erythromycin, are often used in gastoparesis patients.  When taken orally, erythromycin often becomes less effective after several weeks of relief.  Proton pump inhibitors and H2 antihistamines may provide some relief as gastroparesis is often associated with and irritating to GERD.

Medications for management of nausea and vomiting are mainstays for many gastroparesis patients, with phenothiazines or antihistamines often used for this purpose.  5-HT3 receptor antagonists like ondansetron are also widely used.  The neurokinin receptor-1 antagonist aprepitant is sometimes used after failing other antiemetics.  Scopolamine patches and dronabinol are also options.  Tricyclic antidepressants can be used to manage nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, with nortriptyline and desipramine often preferred over amitriptyline, which can cause delayed emptying.  Mirtazapine has been reported as successful in a case study.

Abdominal pain associated with gastroparesis can be difficult to manage because opiates can induce gastroparesis.  Gabapentin, tramadol, tapentadol, pregabalin and nortriptyline are non-opiate options for pain management.

For some patients, more invasive treatment is indicated.  Some patients with gastroparesis have increased tone in the pyloric canal, which can contribute to delayed gastric emptying.  Injection of botulinum toxin (Botox) into the pyloric sphincter is sometimes tried.  In double-blind studies, use of Botox increases gastric emptying but does not improve symptom profiles.

There are surgical options to manage gastroparesis, with varying results.  Gastric electrical stimulation is considered for patients with long term symptoms that have not improved despite treatment.  These devices are implanted and provide low grade electrical stimulation to the stomach and increase motility.  In diabetic gastoparesis patients, this method improved quality of life and decreased symptoms.  Patients who acquired gastroparesis following surgery, or whose gastroparesis is idiopathic, were less likely to improve using GES.  Pyloroplasty and gastrectomy (partial or complete) have been trialed in some patients, but there is not a clear trend in the data.

Acupuncture has been shown to benefit gastroparesis patients in a number of studies, including one blinded, randomized study. Symptom severity was improved in those receiving acupuncture and gastric emptying time was decreased.  Autogenic retraining using the program developed by NASA for space motion sickness has shown some benefit.  Autogenic retraining was found to be more successful in patients with intact autonomic function.

References:

Sarosiek, Irene, et al. Surgical approaches to treatment of gastroparesis: Gastric electrical stimulation, pyloroplasty, total gastrectomy and enteral feeding tubes.  Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 151-167.

Pasricha, Pankaj Jay, Parkman, Henry P. Gastroparesis: Definitions and Diagnosis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 1-7.

Parkman, H. P. Idiopathic Gastroparesis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 59-68.

Nguyen, Linda Anh, Snape Jr., William J. Clinical presentation and pathophysiology of gastroparesis.  Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 21-30.

Bharucha, Adil E. Epidemiology and natural history of gastroparesis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 9-19.

Camilleri, Michael, et al. Clinical guideline: Management of gastroparesis. Am J Gastroenterol 2013; 108: 18-37.

Gastroparesis: Part 1

Gastroparesis (GP) is a condition in which stomach contents are not emptied into the small intestine within an appropriate time period without an obvious anatomical explanation.  Gastroparesis patients are highly symptomatic, with approximately 90% reporting nausea, 84% vomiting, and abdominal pain, bloating, feeling unable to eat more after a small portion and feeling very “full” after even a small meal.  Some patients can manage their symptoms with dietary changes and medication, while others continue to be significantly symptomatic.

In some people, GP manifests episodically, with no symptoms for periods of time between flares.  In others, symptoms are chronic and perpetual.  Malnutrition, dehydration and weight loss can be severe in some cases.  Despite the primary functional feature of gastroparesis being the delayed emptying of the stomach, the degree to which gastric emptying is slowed correlates poorly with symptoms and severity of symptoms.

Gastroparesis affects at least 37.8 women/100000 persons and 9.6 men/100000 persons.  Once thought to be uncommon, it is now thought that gastroparesis may affect up to 2% of the population.  Hospital admissions for gastroparesis have increased dramatically in the last two decades, with a 158% increase between 1995 and 2004, with 138% of that increase occurring between 2000 and 2004.  There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon, including changes to criteria, better recognition and the withdrawal of cisapride from the market, a medication that alleviated some gastroparesis symptoms.

Gastroparesis is marked by generic gastrointestinal symptoms which can make it hard to identify unless the clinician is familiar with this condition.  Initially, it is often mistaken for functional dyspepsia.  For patients who have distinct episodes rather than continuous symptoms, patients are sometimes misdiagnosed with cyclic vomiting syndrome.

Gastroparesis can occur as a result of a number of diseases or circumstances.  Diabetes and surgery are the most commonly reported causes.  Idiopathic gastroparesis, in which no specific cause can be found, is often the most common in patient groups studied, with up to 1/3 of patients having this type.  Autonomic neuropathy, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune disease, thyroid disease can also cause gastroparesis, among many other conditions.

 

References:

Sarosiek, Irene, et al. Surgical approaches to treatment of gastroparesis: Gastric electrical stimulation, pyloroplasty, total gastrectomy and enteral feeding tubes.  Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 151-167.

Pasricha, Pankaj Jay, Parkman, Henry P. Gastroparesis: Definitions and Diagnosis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 1-7.

Parkman, H. P. Idiopathic Gastroparesis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 59-68.

Nguyen, Linda Anh, Snape Jr., William J. Clinical presentation and pathophysiology of gastroparesis.  Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 21-30.

Bharucha, Adil E. Epidemiology and natural history of gastroparesis. Gastroenterol Clin N Am 44 (2015) 9-19.

Privilege

My body is changing. I am tired but do not sleep for twenty hours at a time. Bones and angles emerge as my swelling wanes. I exercise. I eat real food. I sleep at night.

At the same time, I am carefully engineering to encourage these continued changes. I still take a ton of medication. I still need IV fluids every day. I still need IV meds. I still need to manage my pain. I still need to be careful. This nethervoid I currently inhabit might never be mistaken for healthy, but it is healthy for me. It is stable at least, predictable. It is good for me.

Last week was composed of the oppressive, sticky summer days that Boston is known for. Heat, humidity and sunlight form my own personal triad of doom. I got halfway through my short walk between stations and started reacting badly. I went into a Starbucks and promptly threw up while hives appeared on my neck. All of my exposed skin was bright red. I took some Benadryl and drank some cold water and waited for things to calm down. They did. I continued on my way to work.

It is hard for me to gauge how bad I look on any given day, as I was for many years in a persistent reactive state. My only indication is that initial surprise when people look at me, that flash of concern as their eyes widen, a brief moment before they recover. I knew as soon as I got to work that I must look terrible.

We have a cold room at work that is essentially an enormous refrigerator. “Girl, you need to go stand in there,” one of my coworkers said with a supportive nod. So I did. It helped. When I emerged, multiple people told me they were worried I would anaphylax and to please take a cab home. I am so fortunate to work with this group of caring, wonderful people that understand my disease and want me to be safe.

I did end up taking a cab home. I didn’t want to, but I did. It’s hard for me to articulate why I didn’t want to, when I knew it was safer and easier, in a way that doesn’t make me sound crazy. Getting in that cab made me sad in this nebulous but palpable way.

Taking the train to work is a privilege. Going to work, cleaning your house, paying your bills, food shopping, making dinner, eating solids, crunching lettuce as you watch television, being part of the world. These are privileges. These are the things you miss when you are hospitalized or so tired that your whole body feels heavy or riding that knife’s edge of anaphylaxis because your body is fighting you on something you need to do.

All of the days you spend fighting – this is what it is for. You fight for these privileges. You fight to be in the world. These are the things you will miss. All you can ever hope for is to wake each day to a world full of mundane privileges.

Some days I want to take the train even if there is a chance I will get sick. Because there is a chance that I won’t. Once that was impossible. Maybe it will be again. Maybe tomorrow it will be impossible, but not today.

I am still sick. I am still in pain. I still have a poorly functioning GI tract. I still carry two Epipens and a backpack full of meds everywhere I go. I am still nauseous. After all of the effort put forth in the last three months, I did not get cured. I got to walk to work sometimes. I got to eat salad. I got to feel the sunlight on my skin. That’s what I got. And it’s enough, and even more than it’s enough, it’s amazing. All of this is amazing. I am alive this summer and I am alive in the heat and I am alive when I’m too hot and I’m alive in the sun.

You cannot always decide what you do, but you can always decide who you are. I cannot always walk in the summer sun, but I am always a person who wants to.

I choose to live in the world and to enjoy it and be alive. I choose this even when it might hurt me. I choose this even when it might kill me. It is where I want to be.

It is a privilege to participate in this world. It is a privilege to be alive.

Phantom

I have always been fascinated by both the human body and the diseases that affect it. When I was about ten years old, my parents bought me a medical dictionary. I read it cover to cover. I wrote little stories about people with Legionnaire’s Disease and Tetrology of Fallot, describing the symptoms and treatments in vivid detail.

It was in this dictionary that I first read about phantom pain. It always made a weird sort of sense to me. Bodies are creatures of habit, just like us. Of course your body expects to have all of the parts it started with. Of course your brain would assume it was merely misinterpreting signals when suddenly a limb was missing. The alternative was too awful to consider.

It never occurred to me that the body could experience phantom pain from a part of the body that was never supposed to exist. As soon as my epidural line was pulled five days post-op, I started having severe sporadic pain where my stoma used to be. It was distinct from the other pains – the burning in the lower colon, the sharpness in the rectum, the soreness near the incisions.

This was something different. It felt like when my body tried to pass stool through the stoma, but couldn’t because of an obstruction. It was the same exact same sensation. My body remembers the route of a path that should never have been there to begin with.

I lived 29 years without an ostomy. In the two years that I had it, I believed it was the best solution for me, and for most of that time, I believed that I would always have it. The only way to survive was a radical acceptance of this defect. I told myself that this was the best option for my body and I made myself believe it. I believed it so much that even my body was convinced.

I still have a wound where my stoma was. It is closing slowly. Mostly the pain is manageable; I know it will never really go away. Several times a day, I feel my body mimic the pressure of an obstruction behind the stoma, the twisting and lines of pain spiderwebbing into my lower back. The pain isn’t real, but my brain won’t believe it.

Phantom pain is notoriously resistant to pain medication. One of the better options is the use of psychological “tricks” to convince your body that it is still intact. I am thinking about how to do this. But I don’t know which version of my GI tract my brain thinks is real.

 

The high water mark

I spent most of the latter half of May in bed. People woke me up take medication on schedule and I fed myself small meals periodically. I watched movies and TV and drifted in and out of sleep, pain killers and Benadryl making the world soft around the edges.

Every day, even as I felt myself healing, my strength and stamina waned. My legs felt weak when I stood up. I got winded walking around the block. Holding my head up felt difficult. All of the stamina I had built up before surgery was gone. All of my progress was undone.

I spend so much energy trying to get somewhere I’m never going to get – to this place of physical health where I can exercise and sleep at night and wake in the morning without bleary eyes and a pounding headache. I have been trying to reach this milestone since well before I knew I was sick.

I’m not even sure I know the closest I ever came. What is the highwater mark of this particular struggle? Was it the few weeks before my last birthday when I was sleeping at night and waking without an alarm? Or that really good day last September? The few weeks after my colostomy healed? I don’t know. I’m not sure there is a high water mark. Everything is relative.

Living with a sickness that causes regular setbacks – and requires treatments that sometimes do the same – is difficult. This halting start has become a sort of rhythm, the timing an inherent part of this experience. I’m never getting anywhere. I’m always getting it wrong. It feels like if I could do the right things in the right order that it would make a difference. `

But what if every time I started again, it didn’t mean that every time before was a failure? All those times before, all the moves in the wrong order, kept me alive and participating in the world. How wrong could they be? What if the high water mark of this struggle is just being alive?

Reversing the ostomy was the right move. I am noticeably less inflamed and my body is responding. I am having fewer reactions. I am eating without vomiting. The squishiness, the swelling weight is melting away so I can see the features beneath. I am still in pain, but I think I always will be.

I’m getting stronger. It’s slow, but it’s happening. I can walk for twenty minutes now, Astoria happily padding along beside me. I’m short of breath and sweaty when I’m done, but I can do it.

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming myself for all the times I had to start over. Maybe it’s time to see these setbacks as opportunities to understand my body and learn from it.

Maybe this is enough.

 

Winding in the light

I have a wound on my abdomen, a literal open wound where my stoma was. Every night I undress it, removing long thin strips of gauze before replacing them with clean packing, manipulating the tendrils with sterilized scissors. It is graphic, visceral. But I prefer to do it myself. I prefer this active stewardship of my body.

It is healing, closing up along the seams that have formed on my skin, one on each side. I am participating in the act of healing my body. Soon the line will be continuous, all the tissue underneath knitted together. Just a line that keeps a secret, like lips sewn shut. No one will ever look at this scar and know I had an ostomy until I tell them.

My GI tract is trying to figure out how to work with this new continuity. It hurts. It feels like everything holding my abdomen together on the left side is trying to give out. I am starting the very slow and arduous process of regaining strength and routine. It feels like a lot on some days. Today it feels like a lot.

But two years ago this was unfathomable. Even six months ago, I thought I knew pretty well the path my life would take it, and it was a short road, a straight line to pain and anaphylaxis and liquids and soft solids forever. I still see that road, but it is longer and it winds its way more into the light.

I don’t believe anymore that there is any fear that is so wide and so deep that you cannot meet it. I just don’t believe it.

Back together

This winter, when my entire city struggled under walls of ice and snow, I found myself dreaming about the beach. In my mind, I stood by the water’s edge, air warm, breeze strong off the ocean, sun warming my skin. I imagined myself looking and seeing the scar where they closed my ostomy site.

It was such an impractical dream that I didn’t really hope for fruition. I am essentially allergic to the beach – sunblock, sunlight, cold water, heat. And of course my ostomy site would never be closed. It was not even an option then. I never thought it was possible.

Three months later, I arrived at the hospital to have surgery that would reverse my ostomy and reconnect the two segments of my GI tract so that stool would pass through the rectum. It felt surreal, like at any time I would find a man behind a curtain, pulling strings.

They took me right in and every person who spoke to me knew that I had mastocytosis and that I needed premeds one hour before the procedure. They went over everything with me again to make sure it was mast cell safe. “You are the boss,” one nurse told me. “You live with this all the time, just tell us what you need.” I have waited years to hear these words, for providers to believe that.

They administered my premeds and the anesthesiologist came to give me an epidural. It was painless. They taped the line with my safe tape and lay me down. They pushed some midazolam and fentanyl and wheeled me into the operating room.

“I need to tell you something about my skin,” I said suddenly, jerking awake from my semi-unconsciousness. “My skin is really reactive and hives easily, so don’t think that it’s a sign of anaphylaxis.”

“We know,” the nurse said, nodding reassuringly. “It’s in the note you gave us for your chart. We know about your disease and we will be careful.”

And the first time in a long time, I believed it. Everyone in that room understood at least the basics of mast cell disease and our special operative concerns.

I lay back and they put a mask on my face. I breathed deeply and woke up a few hours later in the PACU.

I had an epidural with a bupivacaine PCA pump that I could push as needed to numb my abdomen. I had a hydromorphone PCA pump that I could as needed for additional pain management. I couldn’t feel any pain. It was amazing. I still reacted to the anesthesia with my typical nausea/vomiting but they were prepared for it. Frankly, it was so pleasantly different from my last major surgery that it seemed like a small price to pay.

About twelve hours after surgery, my GI tract started moving. Last time, it didn’t move for five days. This time it was moving and pushing things in the right direction. It was the best possible indication that this had worked. I couldn’t believe it.

The following day I was up walking around. (If you are having abdominal surgery and have mast cell disease, ask about an epidural. It honestly was the lynchpin here and made the pain so manageable so my mast cell reactions to pain were really minor.) I was eating the day after that. I had a couple of reactions but they were easy to control because there were orders to administer Benadryl and Pepcid IV as needed, as well as steroids if the reaction was severe.

I felt so safe. The nursing care was so good I wrote a letter detailing how amazing they were. They all asked me about my disease and diluted my Benadryl and they were just generally fantastic. Instead of spending seven days fighting for things I needed, I spent seven days managing my pain and reactions in an environment with many professionals who cared and understood that I was not just a crazy person asking for crazy things.

I came home a few days ago to my kitchen table covered in presents and cards from the mast cell community. It was so humbling. It was like Masto Christmas. There were books and movies, a huge piece of amethyst, stuffed animals, cute like knick knacks, funny cards, touching cards and pictures drawn by the masto kids. It was the perfect punctuation for this experience. I try to hold things together and to be strong at the broken places, and you guys just pulled everything together for me. I will never forget this kindness as long as I live.

One of the very difficult things about mast cell disease is that we so often have to fight for things we need to be safe. We are always ready for a fight, always on edge. We wonder if it we can keep this up. We are so tired. We just want to be safe. We want others to help us be safe.

This experience was the culmination of years of educating medical professionals and of them receiving education on mast cell disease elsewhere. This time when I said I needed Benadryl, they just got it for me. No fighting. I am the boss of my body.

I write a lot about how I see the world and how I interact with it as a mast cell patient. But in my private writings, I write about how I want the world to be, how it should be. Two weeks ago, I went to the hospital for surgery and during my stay, I realized I was living in that world. Maybe it was just for a little while, but I was there. I could hear the universe whispering to me, “You can do this. Look how far you have come.” So I’m ready to fight again if I have to, because I saw this other reality, and it was real and safe and we can make it like that everywhere if we try.

So when time goes by and it gets hard again, and I’m exhausted from advocating, I’m going to remember this. I’m going to remember this win. I’m going to remember that this safe place made it easy for me to heal and rest. I’m going to remember that this fight is how we make the rest of the world safe for all of us, not just for me, at one hospital, one time.

I’m going to remember that this tired, sick body made this incredible thing possible, and when it seems like I can’t do any more incredible things, I’ll remember that I achieved this, and that I can achieve so much more.

And when you guys are tired and sick of fighting, promise me that you’ll remember that this is possible, and that we’re all in this together. When you think you can’t do it anymore, just extend a hand to the void. We will be there to hold it and put you back together.