Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Gut Dysfunction: Diagnosis and Management

Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2024 Feb 14. doi: 10.1007/s11894-024-00924-w.Online ahead of print.


Matthew J Hamilton 1


Author information

1Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endoscopy, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA. mjhamilton@bwh.harvard.edu.


Purpose of review: Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) is a clinical disorder that may explain irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) type symptoms as well as other allergic symptoms experienced by an individual. The diagnosis and treatment of MCAS with specific focus on gastrointestinal (GI) manifestations is reviewed.

Recent findings: Although biomarkers for MCAS remain elusive, testing for baseline serum tryptase will distinguish the type of mast cell disorder and urine tests for mast cell mediator metabolites may support the diagnosis. Endoscopy and Colonoscopy with biopsies is not used to diagnose MCAS but is important to rule out other conditions that may cause symptoms. There is increased awareness of the association between MCAS and autonomic dysfunction, small fiber neuropathy, and connective tissue disorders which all impact GI symptoms. MCAS is a disorder often of unknown etiology (idiopathic) and characterized by intermittent allergy type symptoms that affect multiple organ systems after exposure to a trigger. GI symptoms including abdominal cramping and loose stool are prominent and mimic those of IBS. Diagnostic testing is performed to assess for elevations in mast cell mediators during symptoms and to rule out other conditions. A comprehensive treatment plan includes medications that target mast cells, treatments for associated conditions including autonomic dysfunction, and management of comorbid psychiatric illness and nutritional deficits.

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