Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is mastocytosis?
The most common form of mastocytosis (say
"mass-toe-sigh-toe-sis") is a disease of the skin. In very rare cases,
mastocytosis can affect other parts of the body, like the stomach, the
intestines and the bone marrow. This condition results when a person has
too many mast cells.
Mastocytosis can occur in people of any age.
It's more serious in adults. It's usually mild in children, and they often
What are mast cells?
Mast cells are a kind of blood cell made by
your bone marrow. They're part of your immune system that helps you fight off
infections. There are more of these cells in the skin, the lungs and the
intestines than in other parts of your body. Mast cells make a chemical called
histamine. Normally, this chemical serves as a kind of alarm to let the immune
system know that an infection is attacking part of the body. Histamine can cause
swelling, itching and redness when your body reacts to something like an insect
bite or a bee sting.
What causes mastocytosis?
We don't know why some people have too many mast
cells. We do know some things that trigger the release of histamine from mast
cells and cause the symptoms of mastocytosis. Symptoms may be triggered by cold
or heat, certain medicines, emotional stress and insect bites. The triggers
aren't the same in every person.
What are the symptoms of
The symptoms are different, depending on where
the extra mast cells are. If there are too many mast cells in your skin, you
might have a red and itchy rash. You could get hives or have a rash that looks
like freckles. If you rub the rash, it may get red and swollen. Sometimes the
mast cells collect at one spot in your skin and cause one large lump.
If the mast cells are in your stomach and
intestines, you might have diarrhea and stomach pain. However, this is rare.
In some people, the extra mast cells cause a
serious reaction, like a bad allergy reaction. Their blood pressure may suddenly
drop to a low level, causing them to faint. They may have trouble breathing.
This reaction can cause death if treatment isn't started right away. This kind
of serious reaction is very rare.
Possible symptoms of
- Red, itchy rash
- Rash that looks like freckles
- One large lump on the skin
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty breathing
How does my doctor
know I have mastocytosis?
The symptoms of mastocytosis can be like the
symptoms of many other health problems. Your doctor may do a skin biopsy to find
out what is causing your symptoms. To do a biopsy, your doctor removes a small
piece of skin and puts it under a microscope to look for extra mast cells. When
an adult gets mastocytosis, a bone marrow biopsy may be needed to look for other
blood diseases that might come along with the mastocytosis.
If you don't have a rash but you have other
symptoms, like diarrhea, your doctor may do a blood test or a urine test.
Can mastocytosis be treated?
Yes. Treatment can stop your mast cells from
releasing histamine. It can also keep the histamine from causing problems. If
your symptoms are severe, you should get treatment.
Antihistamines, which are often used to treat
allergies, are helpful. If a rash bothers you, your doctor may suggest that you
be treated with ultraviolet light. If you have diarrhea, an oral version (taken
by mouth) of a medicine called cromolyn (brand name: Gastrocrom) may help.
What else can I do?
The best treatment for mastocytosis may be to
stay away from the things that seem to trigger your symptoms. It may help if you
and your doctor list all the things that cause your symptoms. Did your symptoms
start after you were exposed to heat or cold? Felt emotional stress? Took a
certain medicine? Got an insect bite? Share what you learn with your doctor.
Because mastocytosis can cause a severe allergy
reaction in some people, it's a good idea to keep an emergency kit with you at
all times so you can give yourself medicine to stop a bad reaction.