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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome

MCS

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Updated January 31, 2009

Updated January 31, 2009

What is the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome?

The multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) syndrome is a subjective illness in which various symptoms are blamed on various environmental chemical exposures. Symptoms are often vague and include fatigue, muscle pains, nausea and memory loss. No diagnostic physical or laboratory findings completely define the illness.

This syndrome has been given many other names, including idiopathic environmental intolerances, chemical sensitivity syndrome, total allergy syndrome, 20th century disease, cerebral allergy and universal allergy.

What are the symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome?

Since symptoms can vary from one person to another, there is no set of defined criteria for MCS syndrome. However, MCS syndrome appears to occur more commonly in adults, and primarily in women.

People affected by MCS syndrome describe symptoms in relation to environmental exposures, especially odors. Most commonly, the sources of these odors include perfumes, scented products, solvents and cleaning agents, new carpet, car exhaust, air pollution, plastics, formaldehyde and cigarette smoke.

Other people with MCS are affected by various foods, including certain foods, food additives, medications, and mercury in dental fillings. More recently, MCS syndrome has been blamed on silicone breast implants and has been associated with the Gulf War Syndrome.

No studies have shown that higher doses of the above triggers are more likely to cause symptoms in people with MCS syndrome. There are also no studies that prove toxicity of the triggers as a cause of symptoms.

What are the Possible Causes of MCS Syndrome?

Various theories have been proposed as a cause of the MCS syndrome. These have included immunologic, toxicologic, psychologic and sociologic theories.

Some experts related the cause of MCS syndrome to an autoimmune or immunodeficiency causes, triggered by chemicals in the environment. There are no studies to support such a theory.

Another theory, called the neurotoxic theory, relates symptoms to stimulation of the olfactory (sense of smell) system of the brain. Other theories related to toxicity of the odors, foods and medications, and relate to some people as having “overly sensitive” mucous membranes.

Lastly, MCS syndrome has been proposed as a psychiatric or personality disorder, and is often associated with or attributed to panic attacks.

How is MCS Syndrome Diagnosed?

The MCS syndrome is diagnosed by a person’s history of symptoms with exposure to various chemical triggers. There are no defining criteria for this illness, and typically no physical or laboratory findings to which the disease can be attributed.

However, some practitioners will attempt to perform testing, such as neutralization-provocation, in an attempt to identify triggers. There is no scientific basis for these various tests. Learn more about controversial testing methods used in the field of allergy.

How is MCS Syndrome Treated?

In some cases, certain practitioners prescribe an extreme avoidance program for people with MCS syndrome. This program may include various “detoxification” methods, including taking expensive vitamin supplements, medications, injections or “neutralizing” doses of foods or sublingual drops.

Others recommend a psychotherapeutic approach to MCS syndrome, including psychotherapy, given the similarity of this disease to other known psychiatric diseases.

Want to keep learning? Find out more about alternative therapies for the treatment of allergic diseases.

Sources:

AAAAI Board of Directors Position Statement. Idiopathic Environmental Intolerances. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999;103:36-40.

Das-Munshi J, Rubin GJ, Wessely S. Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: A Systematic Review of Provocation Studies. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;118:1257-1264.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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