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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

Mastocytic enterocolitis

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Your Question

Is mastocytic enterocolitis serious?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is mastocytic enterocolitis?

Mastocytic enterocolitis is a term describing the condition of chronic, intractable diarrhea in people with normal colon or duodenum biopsy results, but with an increased number of mast cells in the colonic mucosa (the innermost layer of the colon).[1] The increase in mast cells is not associated with systemic or cutaneous mastocytosis.[2] It is unclear whether the accumulation of mast cells is a response to, or cause of, the mucosal inflammation that causes the symptoms of the condition.[1] Most individuals with this condition respond well to drugs affecting mast cell function.[2]
Last updated: 5/29/2014

What are mast cells?

Mast cells are a type of immune cell. You can find mast cells in skin, lymph nodes, internal organs (such as the liver and spleen) and the linings of the lung, stomach, and intestine. Mast cells play an important role in helping your immune system defend these tissues from disease. Mast cells attract other key players of the immune defense system to areas of your body where they are needed by releasing chemical “alarms” such as histamine and cytokines.[3]

Mast cells seem to have other roles as well. Found to gather around wounds, they may play a part in wound healing. For example, the typical itching you feel around a healing scab may be caused by histamine released by mast cells. Researchers also think mast cells may have a role in the growth of blood vessels.[3]
The gastrointestinal tract is rich with mast cells that are important in responding to a diversity of environmental substances in the gut.[2] The number of mast cells increase dramatically in response to immune stimuli such as stress, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, or allergens. Too many mast cells can cause irritation of the bowel which may result in chronic intractable diarrhea.[2]
Last updated: 7/16/2009

What are the signs and symptoms of mastocytic enterocolitis?

According to the medical literature, signs and symptoms of mastocytic enterocolitis primarily include chronic, intractable diarrhea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms that have occasionally been reported include constipation, nausea, and/or vomiting.[2]

Although other signs and symptoms appear to have been reported by individuals on various online forums and support Web sites, we were unable to locate additional information about symptoms of the condition in the available medical literature. At this time, literature about mastocytic enterocolitis is scarce.
Last updated: 8/6/2013

Is mastocytic enterocolitis serious?

The seriousness of the condition will depend on the severity of the symptoms in the individual, their overall health, and how well the condition responds to therapy. 

Treatment of the condition may include therapies that alter mast cell mediator release and function[2] such as antihistamines (to prevent the effect of mast cell histamine) and anticholinergics (to relieve intestinal cramping).[3] To learn more about these and other treatment options we recommend that you speak to your healthcare provider.

Last updated: 7/16/2009

  • Ogilvie-McDaniel C, Blaiss M, Osborn FD, Carpenter J. Mastocytic enterocolitis: a newly described mast cell entity. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. December 2008; 101(6):645-646.
  • Jakate S, Demeo M, John R, Tobin M, Keshavarzian A.. Mastocytic enterocolitis: increased mucosal mast cells in chronic intractable diarrhea. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2006 Mar; Accessed 9/19/2012.
  • Mastocytosis. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 2012; Accessed 9/19/2012.
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.