Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: Neurological Symptoms

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

Published on

May 13, 2024

Updated on

April 16, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is a condition that eludes easy explanation, marked by a broad spectrum of symptoms that affect numerous bodily functions, with a notable impact on neurological health. It represents a significant challenge within the medical field, often leading patients on a lengthy quest for diagnosis due to its elusive nature.

In exploring the neurological symptoms of MCAS, we delve into the complex interaction between the immune system and the nervous system. Innovative therapeutic approaches are emerging, focusing on neuroplasticity and the brain's ability to adapt to immune challenges. By retraining the brain to modulate the immune response more effectively, there's potential to alleviate the neurological manifestations of MCAS, offering a new avenue for relief and recovery for those affected by this perplexing syndrome.

At re-origin, we help you use the power of brain retraining to rewire old neural pathways causing "dis-ease" (defined as a multifaceted condition characterized by a disruption in the homeostatic balance among psychological, neurological, and immunological systems, leading to observable health limitations), providing you with the relief you have been waiting for! If you’d like to learn more, join us for a free info call.

What is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)?

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (often referred to as MCAS, Mast Cell Activation Disorder, or Mast Cell Activation Disease) has gained increased awareness over the past two decades. The title is often used as a diagnosis for individuals who present with various symptoms throughout the body which, together, do not make up any other formal diagnosis.

Many of the individuals diagnosed with MCAS have endured numerous medical evaluations for a wide variety of complaints without any definitive answer. MCAS is considered an inflammatory condition that presents in multiple areas of the body, including the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and dermatological system.

The syndrome either presents as very mild until exacerbated by stressful life events or acute illness or may slowly worsen with time without a definitive source.1

Mast cells are found in areas throughout the body that contain connective tissue. This includes the skin, around the nerves, in the lungs, near blood and lymphatic vessels, in bone marrow, and in the intestinal tract. Mast cells are vital for proper immune system response and protect us from pathogens, such as parasites, viruses, and bacteria. Each mast cell contains hundreds of granules full of heparin, histamine, and a variety of cytokines.2 During an allergic reaction, mast cells release “mast cell mediators,” which flush the body with the contents of each granule; thus, potentially creating skin flushing, itching, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, low blood pressure, and even shock.

All of these are considered a normal part of the body’s immune system response and can be attributed to mast cell release.3While the exact cause of MCAS is unknown, the dysfunction has often been attributed to an abnormal production and infiltration of mast cell mediators during the moment of mast cell release. This is considered an autoimmune response by the body, which occurs when the organ systems feel threatened by naturally occurring body substances. The proliferation of mast cell mediators can increase sensitivities in many body systems, often producing common symptoms of MCAS.4

What are the symptoms of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?

Common symptoms of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome include:

Cardiovascular System:

  • Tachycardia or Arrhythmia (heartbeat that’s too fast or irregular)
  • Lightheadedness and/or dizziness
  • Blood Pressure issues, including Syncope or Presyncope

Central Nervous System/Neuropsychiatric:

Dermatological System:

  • Hives and/or rashes
  • Bruising easily
  • Itching and/or burning sensation
  • Skin flushing
  • Dermatographic Urticaria
  • Systemic Mastocytosis

Gastrointestinal System:

  • Chronic intestinal discomfort
  • Diarrhea and/or Constipation
  • Abdominal pain and/or cramping
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Acid Reflux
  • Difficulty swallowing and/or throat discomfort

Respiratory System:

  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Full Body:

  • Anaphylaxis5

Treatments for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Unfortunately, there is no known medical cure for MCAS. Common treatments for MCAS patients include medications that focus on decreasing symptoms. These medications include, but are not limited to:

  • Antihistamines like Afrin Spray and diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Mast cell inhibitors and immunosuppressive drugs
  • Antidepressants for psychiatric symptoms
  • Mediator Release Blockers and Anti-prostaglandins
  • Self-injectable Epinephrine for anaphylaxis6

Can Mast Cell Activation Syndrome cause neurological problems?

While MCAS can cause a whole host of symptoms, including neurological and neuropsychological, it is important to understand that these symptoms are often produced as an overreaction of the body’s immune response. Since the nervous system and immune system are so closely connected, there is hope for you in retraining your heightened immune response with the power of your brain!

At re-origin, we focus on changing the way your brain responds to threats, both external and internal. We understand that by consciously calming the nervous system while experiencing symptoms, you can calm your immune system’s overactive threat response.

Recall the very first time you experienced an immune system response. It could have been as far back as contracting chicken pox or getting stung by a bee as a child. At that moment, your Limbic System identified and registered the situation as a threat to your safety. It created an association between any perceived symptoms and being in danger. Now, tack on years of experience with immune responses.

Each time, your Limbic System has strengthened the association with the uncomfortable stimuli. Because of this, now, each time you experience symptoms of an immune response, your Limbic System believes you are in danger, thus adding a stress response into the mix.

The human stress response surges neurochemicals like Cortisol, Adrenaline, and Norepinephrine into the body. These chemicals generally cause an increase in already uncomfortable symptoms and heighten anxiety, limiting your brain and body’s ability to rest and recover. Without recovery, neuroinflammation and overactive allergen response continue, creating a vicious cycle.

In order to rewire this response, we recommend consciously creating healthy thought patterns to calm your Limbic System in moments of distress. Creating new associations with the overactive immune system response can be both empowering and healing. By establishing new associations through re-origin’s neuroscience-backed brain retraining program, you will begin to understand that your overactive immune response is just that overactive. The neurons in your brain have been wired together, but research has shown if associations can be made, they can also be broken.

Find relief with re-origin brain retraining program

At re-origin, we help you use the power of your brain to break this old unhealthy association and remind your body that you are safe even in discomfort. This allows your stress response to calm, neuroinflammation to soothe, and the overactive mast cells to finally take a break, thus providing you with the relief you have been waiting for! If you’d like to learn more, join us for a free info call.

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By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC