Mast cell disorders cause symptoms throughout your body, yet chances are your doctor can’t find a physical cause for your problems. Richard Herrscher, MD, and Maryam Saifi, MD, at AIR Care are some of the few specialists in mast cell disorders, which are complex, hard to diagnose, and increase your risk of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. If you struggle with unexplained symptoms, call one of the offices in Dallas or Plano, Texas, or schedule an appointment online.
Mast cells are important members of your immune system. They’re abundant in connective tissues throughout your body, where they protect you from harmful pathogens.
Every mast cell contains 50-200 tiny sacs that are filled with biochemicals, including histamine. When the cells encounter bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens, they release their chemicals, activating an inflammatory response and attracting other immune cells to the area to destroy the invader.
While their role in your immune system is vital, mast cells also contribute to health problems. For example, they’re actively involved in allergies, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
Mast cell disorders occur when you have more mast cells than normal, the existing mast cells are overly reactive, or both. These disorders lead to a toxic amount of mast cell chemicals being released, causing many symptoms and putting you at risk for anaphylaxis.
There are three major types of mast cell disorders:
MCAS occurs when mast cells are hyperactive, releasing their chemicals when they’re activated by many substances that wouldn’t normally trigger a mast cell response. Food, infections, emotional stress, medications, physical exertion, and temperature extremes are a few examples of potential mast cell triggers.
This mast cell disorder develops when an excessive number of mast cells accumulates in your skin or your internal organs.
This is an inherited disorder that causes high levels of tryptase, an enzyme released by mast cells along with histamine. Like histamine, tryptase causes allergic and inflammatory conditions such as asthma, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis. High levels of tryptase increase your risk of anaphylaxis.
Mast cells have a widespread impact on your body, which means your symptoms may arise from one or more body systems. These are a few examples of symptoms caused by mast cell disorders:
Patients with mast cell activation syndrome often go through periods of remission followed by a flare-up of symptoms.
When mast cell disorders lead to the release of an excessive amount of chemicals, they trigger a cascade of events that cause anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is essentially a body-wide allergic reaction that occurs when multiple systems react to histamine, causing symptoms such as:
Anaphylaxis also makes your blood pressure drop, causing pale skin, a weak pulse, and confusion. This massive reaction quickly leads to shock, loss of consciousness, and potentially death.
As soon as you develop these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately and inject epinephrine, if you have it for your allergies.
If you develop any symptoms of mast cell disorder, call AIR Care or schedule an appointment online.