The Test Sample
What is being tested?
Tryptase is an enzyme that is released, along with histamine and other chemicals, from mast cells when they are activated as part of a normal immune response as well as in allergic (hypersensitivity) responses. This test measures the amount of tryptase in the blood.
Mast cells are large tissue cells found throughout the body. They are present in highest amounts in the skin, the lining of the intestine and air passages, and the bone marrow. They contain granules that store a number of chemicals, including tryptase and histamine. When mast cells are activated, they release their contents. If a person has too many mast cells (mastocytosis) and/or the cells are activated inappropriately, the chemicals that are released (especially histamine) may cause symptoms that range from moderate to life-threatening.
Normally, the level of tryptase in the blood is very low. When mast cells are activated, the level increases rapidly, rising within 15 to 30 minutes, peaking at 1 to 2 hours, and returning to normal after several hours to a couple of days. In people with severe allergies, activation of many mast cells can cause an extreme form of allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can cause low blood pressure, hives (blisters on the skin), severe narrowing of the air passages, and even death. Tryptase levels will be very high in people with anaphylaxis.
In some cases, tryptase levels will be high in persons with mast cell activation disorders, in which mast cells become activated without apparent allergies or other reasons.
Tryptase levels can also be significantly and persistently increased with mastocytosis, a rare group of disorders associated with an abnormal increase in the number of mast cells. These cells may accumulate in the skin (cutaneous mastocytosis) or in organs throughout the body (systemic mastocytosis).
While cutaneous mastocytosis typically only causes skin problems (particularly hives), people with systemic mastocytosis or a mast cell activation disorder may experience anaphylaxis and its associated symptoms. These symptoms may be persistent and are related to the organs affected by mast cell accumulation. Systemic mastocytosis may progress slowly or may be aggressive, causing organ dysfunction and, in rare cases, causing a form of leukemia.
How is the sample collected for testing?
A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.
NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.
Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No test preparation is needed, but timing of the sample soon after the beginning of symptoms can be important. Talk to your health practitioner about sample timing.