Eerily familiar in its many symptoms and mysterious origin to fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCSS) is a syndrome in which sufferers experience a wide variety of symptoms when exposed to a minute amount of irritant. Like FMS, MCSS may be linked to a hypersensitive central nervous system. Additional theories as to its origin included immune dysfunction and impaired detoxification by liver enzymes.
Again, like FMS, people who suffer with the consequences of MCSS are thought to be dealing with a psychological issue, regardless of the fact that there are mountains of evidence to the contrary. When you think about it, fibromyalgia has been around as an identifiable condition for more than 100 years. It is only in recent years that any credence has been given to those suffering with FMS. Now, with the increase in environmental toxins and dangerous chemicals, people who are sensitive to the effects of them have to fight for acknowledgement and treatment.
Finally, An Agreed Upon Diagnosis Criteria for MCSS
Even though there is no accepted universal definition by the medical community, experts on multiple chemical sensitivity have developed criteria for diagnosis that have so far been unrefuted in published literature about MCSS. These criteria are:
· The symptoms are reproducible with repeated chemical exposure.
· The condition is chronic.
· Low levels of exposure (lower than previously or commonly tolerated) result in manifestations of the syndrome.
· The symptoms improve or resolve when the incitants are removed.
· Reponses occur to multiple chemically unrelated substances.
· Symptoms involve multiple organ systems.
But, No Agreement on the Name MCSS
In disagreement with the name Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, along with other institutions, have renamed the syndrome Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance. Idiopathic means “unknown cause.” The reason for this change is that there is no proven involvement of the immune system in the condition and since the word “sensitivity” technically refers to an immune reaction (in medical speak), they say the name MCSS is incorrect. The general population tends to understand sensitivity and intolerance to be the same thing, so the original name is still being used. More and more, the struggle to have the condition recognized sounds like the same struggle experienced by those with fibromyalgia and those advocating for FMS.
The Impact Upon the Life of Someone with MCSS
The impact of MCSS on those who suffer with it is not only the physical distress of the symptoms, but the impact that hits all areas of life. Hypersensitivity causes sufferers to isolate themselves because being in public places puts them at risk of a reaction. Often they lose their jobs because they are unable to tolerate the chemicals in the workplace. Relationships fall apart as a partner cannot understand or adapt to the sensitivities of their mate. And, as many of those with fibromyalgia have experienced, the medical confusion over the syndrome has often meant MCSS sufferers are labeled as hypochondriacs or attention grabbers. They often have to fight – sometimes in court – to gain disability benefits and appropriate housing.
Research into MCSS is Encouraging
Even though research into MCSS is not as extensive as some would like it to be, there are still a high number of studies that have found consistent abnormalities in MCSS patients as well as convincing evidence of possible sources of origin in animal and lab models.
One of the more common findings is that of the part of the brain known as the “limbic system”. The Limbic system is strongly connected to that part of the brain that is engaged with the olfactory system (sense of smell and taste). When people with MCSS are exposed to chemicals or irritants they are sensitive to, increased electrical activity in the brain is noted in those with MCSS. One of the primary jobs of the limbic system is to regulate mood and autonomic nervous system functions, which gives understanding as to why MCSS symptoms involve mood changes and thought and sensory information changes as well. The bottom line is that researchers suggest that in MCSS, the brain has become hypersensitized so that small amounts of chemicals cause brain activation.
Other Research for Possible Causes of MCSS
Further research added confirmation to this theory in findings that show that the limbic systems of animals exposed to either short-term high concentrations of chemicals, or long-term lower concentrations, became so hypersensitized that further exposure to a substance that previously was not an irritant created high electrical activity in the limbic system.
There are many research articles that confirm the fact that consistent abnormalities exist in MCSS patients, some of which are:
· Abnormal regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) – those with MCSS have reduced flow of blood.
· Porphyria – diseases that occur due to deficiencies of enzymes used in the production of heme (the blood protein that contains iron).
· Increased nitric oxide
It appears that MCSS is closely tied to FMS and to chronic fatigue syndrome. However, as recognition was slow coming to FMS, it appears it may also be slow coming to MCSS.