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Mast Cell Activation Syndrome - What is it and What are the Symptoms?

Holtorf Medical Group

What is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?

Mast cells are part of the body’s immune response and are typically released in response to an allergy. When mast cells come into contact with an allergen, they release “mediators,” which help expel the allergen from the body. For instance, if you have a pollen allergy and come into contact with pollen, your body releases histamine, a common mediator, triggering you to cough and sneeze in order to remove the allergen from your body.

In the case of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), mast cells release mediators too frequently and too often. More specifically, mast cells have developed abnormal internal signaling that falsely identifies an allergen that is not there, causing an overproduction of mediators.

Symptoms of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

When mast cells produce an excess of mediators, it leads to repeated episodes of anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). Symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea

However, MCAS does not just occur in episodes. People suffering from MCAS frequently deal with it affecting many bodily systems but the most common areas affected include: skin, nervous system, heart, and gut.

The functions that MCAS affects vary from person to person, but some common symptoms include:

  • Skin: itching, redness, sweating, and hives
  • Eyes: itching, watering, general irritation
  • Nose: itching, sneezing, congestion, running
  • Mouth and throat: itching, swelling of the tongue and/or lips, swelling of the throat
  • Lungs: wheezing, difficulty breathing
  • Heart: increased heart rate, low blood pressure
  • Gut: vomiting, diarrhea, cramps
  • Nervous system: headaches, migraines, dizziness, brain fog, fatigue

Causes and Triggers of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Unfortunately, the cause(s) of MCAS are still uncertain. There is some research that suggests there is a genetic component to the condition. A 2013 study found that 74% of participants with MCAS had at least one first-degree relative who also had it.

Woman sneezing in bed

The root cause of MCAS may be unknown, but certain triggers can be avoided in order to minimize a patient’s symptoms. Common triggers include:

  • Food allergies
  • Insect bites
  • Antibiotics
  • Ibuprofen
  • Stress
  • Rapid temperature changes
  • Extreme exercise
  • Perfume
  • PMS

Getting Effective Treatment

Although there is no cure for MCAS, effective treatment can greatly improve your symptoms and quality of life. If you are experiencing symptoms of MCAS or are being treated for MCAS and feel you are not getting the help you need, it may be time to find a different doctor and treatment plan. Locating an effective and knowledgeable MCAS physician can seem daunting and unending, but there is hope!

At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your MCAS condition, optimize your health, and improve your quality of life. Contact us to see how we can help you!


Holtorf Medical GroupThe Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.


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