What is Alpha-gal syndrome? What Are The Symptoms of It?

According to research released Thursday, a potentially fatal allergy to red meat may affect nearly 500,000 Americans, yet many doctors are unaware of what it is or how to treat it.

Alpha-gal syndrome is becoming more prevalent in the community, but according to two papers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are still substantial gaps in our understanding of the disorder.

Dr. Scott Commins, an allergy immunology expert at the University of North Carolina Department of Medicine in Chapel Hill and a co-author of both findings, said: “Patients are out there, but the primary care folks, the health care providers, just don’t seem to know about it.”

The tick-borne disease alpha-gal syndrome causes allergic reactions when red meat, such as that from cows, deer, pigs, or goats, is consumed. Dairy and other processed animal byproducts, such as gelatin, might cause allergies in certain people.

Symptoms of Alpha-gal Syndrome

Alpha-gal syndrome symptoms can range widely, including:

abdomen pain.

People frequently experience itching and hives. In severe circumstances, they might potentially get anaphylaxis and have trouble breathing.

What is Alpha-gal syndrome? What Are The Symptoms of It?

Hives, itching, and other usual symptoms take time to manifest, in contrast to other food allergies. Due to how slowly the stomach digests meat, symptoms typically don’t appear until several hours after a meal. This makes it challenging to diagnose, which is one of the reasons the illness continues to escape the attention of many medical professionals.

42% of the 1,500 clinicians contacted for one of the new reports had never heard of alpha-gal syndrome. Another 35% of respondents indicated they lacked confidence in their capacity to identify or treat the illness.

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The majority of the clinicians who participated in the study were general practitioners without an allergy focus. But when patients experience strange symptoms, they typically consult these doctors first. A diagnosis could be years away if they aren’t considering alpha-gal syndrome, specialists added.

The CDC epidemiology and co-author of the new reports, Ann Carpenter, stated that this “complicates our understanding of the true number of cases.”

According to a second report, alpha-gal syndrome patients are increasing. According to the CDC, there were an extra 15,000 additional cases reported annually between 2017 and 2021.

The number of patients has increased, according to Dr. Erin McGintee, an allergy and immunology specialist in private practice on Long Island, New York. She first started treating patients with alpha-gal syndrome more than ten years ago. She has seen about 900 such individuals since then.

Most folks down here in the Hamptons know at least one other person who has the disease, she said. Since 2010, there have been more than 110,000 cases reported nationwide, according to the CDC. But that might be greatly underestimating it. The organization estimates that up to 450,000 individuals may be impacted.

What is Alpha-gal Syndrome?

Alpha-gal, a particular sugar molecule, is found in the blood of cows, deer, goats, and pigs. Fish, birds, or people do not contain it. The alpha-gal enters the saliva of such mammals when ticks, typically the lone star tick, feed on them. After then, a tick bite can spread alpha-gal to people.

When that occurs, the body produces antibodies that cause the immune system to develop an allergy to alpha-gal because it perceives it as a foreign intruder. Consequently, taking something that contains alpha-gal can make an affected person exceedingly ill.

“The prototypical scenario is someone who tends to wake up in the middle of the night with itching or hives, and then that will tend to progress to gastrointestinal distress, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea,” said Commins.

In fact, Debbie Nichols, 44, of Blacksburg, Virginia, first hypothesized that consuming red meat was the root of her chronic health issues in that way. After eating a steak meal, she woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating stomach discomfort.

The only thing I could think of to try to lessen the ache in my gut was to get in the shower, she said. Since around 2007, Nichols had been experiencing comparable pain and gastrointestinal issues without any apparent cause.

“I spent years trying to convince doctors that there was something wrong with me, and they were telling me ‘No, you look good, you’re healthy,'” she claimed. She wasn’t identified as having alpha-gal syndrome until a blood test in 2019.

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