The human body essentially keeps fluids in two spaces called compartments. The first compartment is inside of cells. This is called intracellular fluid. It holds about 60% of the body’s fluids. The second compartment is outside of the cells in the extracellular fluid, which holds about 40% of the body’s fluids. This second compartment includes spaces like the interstitial compartment and the intravascular compartment. The interstitial compartment is the fluid that surrounds the cells in tissues. The intravascular component is mostly blood.
Third spacing is when body fluids collect somewhere that is not in one of the two compartments where your body can use it. When fluids are inside cells, your body can use it for chemical reactions. When fluids are in the interstitial and intravascular compartments, your body can use it for lubrication, chemical reactions and moving chemicals from one place to another. Fluid in third spaces is outside of the circulatory system and cannot be used by the body.
A common third space is in the abdominal cavity. When fluid becomes trapped between the tissues and organs of the abdomen, it is called “ascites.” When fluid accumulates in the interstitial area around the lungs, it is called “pulmonary edema.” When fluid is found between the layers of the skin or mucous membranes, it is called “angioedema.”
Third spacing is a problem for multiple reasons. The first is that it compresses the structures around the fluid, like when angioedema puts pressure on the throat and makes it difficult to breathe. The fluid sometimes affects organ function. Another reason third spacing is problematic is because it can cause the fluid level in the circulatory system to drop. This means the amount of blood moving through the body is less than it should be, which decreases blood pressure and increases heart rate. This can be very dangerous. If there is not enough blood for the heart to pump, it will stop pumping.
People with a lot of third spacing often have symptoms of dehydration. This includes things like excessive thirst, fatigue, and reduced urine output.
Third spacing occurs as a result of anaphylaxis. It is also a common problem for people with mast cell disease in the absence of anaphylaxis due to “leaking” of chemicals like histamine that push fluid out of the blood vessels and into the tissues. Fluid replacement is very important to staying stable.
There is a lot of anecdotal information that suggests that IV fluids are helpful to counteracting third spacing in people with mast cell disease. I get 2L of fluids overnight three times a week, and it has helped immensely. For me, the IV fluids have stabilized my blood pressure, decreased my heart rate and keep my GI tract moving. My abdominal pain has improved significantly since starting the IV fluids. My energy is better. I don’t think that it has been formally written up in article form, but this is a treatment that is quickly gaining momentum in the mast cell community.