What is mastocytosis?
Mastocytosis is an abnormal increase of mast cells in the body. Mast cells are part of the immune system that help protect the body from infection. The most common form of mastocytosis is when mast cells accumulate in the skin and cause stains or reddish brown lumps. In rare cases, mastocytosis can affect other parts of the body, including the stomach, intestines and bone marrow.
Mastocytosis can occur in people of any age. It is usually mild in children and often outgrow it as they grow.
What are mast cells?
Mast cells are a cell type that produces the bone marrow. They are part of the immune system that helps fight infection. There are more of these cells in the skin, lungs and intestines than in other parts of the body.
Mast cells produce a chemical called histamine. Normally, this chemical acts as a kind of alarm to inform the immune system that an infection is attacking a part of the body. Histamine can cause swelling, itching and redness when the body reacts to something like an insect bite or a bee sting (which is called allergic reaction).
What are the symptoms of mastocytosis?
The symptoms are different depending on where mast cells are increased. If there are too many mast cells in your skin, you could have a red rash that itches. You may have hives or rashes that seem to have freckles. If you rub the rash, it may become red and swollen. Sometimes, mast cells collect in one place on the skin and cause a large lump.
If mast cells are in the stomach and intestines, you may have diarrhea and stomach pain. In some people, increased mast cells cause a severe reaction, similar to a severe allergic reaction. This type of serious reaction is rare. The blood pressure of these people could fall suddenly to a low level and cause them to faint. They may have trouble breathing. This reaction can cause death if treatment is begun immediately.
Possible symptoms of mastocytosis include:
- Red, itchy rash.
- Rashes that appear freckles.
- A large bump on the skin.
- Stomach pain, nausea or vomiting.
- Shortness of breath.
Can mastocytosis be treated?
Currently, there is no cure for mastocytosis, but treatment can help stop your symptoms.
Antihistamines (often used to treat allergies) are useful. If the rash gets upset, your doctor may suggest treatment with ultraviolet light. If you have diarrhea, an oral version of a drug called cromolyn sodium (brand name: Gastrocrom) may help relieve digestive problems.
Perhaps the best treatment for mastocytosis is to stay away from the factors that seem to trigger your symptoms. It might be useful for you and your doctor to list all the factors that make you experience symptoms. Did your symptoms begin after you were exposed to heat or cold? Do you feel stressed? Did you take a certain medication? Were you bitten by an insect? Show the list of triggers to your doctor.
Because mastocytosis can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people, it is recommended to get an emergency kit with you always to be given drugs to stop the dangerous reaction.