Systemic mastocytosis is characterized by an abnormal proliferation of tissue mast cells. Symptoms of mastocytosis are primarily attributed to the release of mast cell mediators during episodes of systemic activation of the excessive numbers of mast cells. Thus, biochemical evidence for the release of increased quantities of mast cell secretory products can suggest or confirm, depending on the clinical situation, a diagnosis of systemic mastocytosis. A major advantage of the biochemical approach to the diagnosis of systemic mast cell disease is that it has allowed the recognition of a class of patients in whom episodes of systemic mastocyte activation can be unequivocally documented biochemically but in whom clear-cut evidence of abnormal mast cell proliferation is lacking by current histologic criteria. Although the release of increased quantities of mast cell mediators can be demonstrated during episodes of mast cell activation in such patients, mediator levels are usually normal at quiescent times. By contrast, patients with proliferative mast cell disease (mastocytosis) usually exhibit chronic overproduction of mast cell mediators. Mast cell secretory products that can be measured in an attempt to obtain biochemical evidence of systemic mast cell activation include histamine, prostaglandin D2, tryptase, and heparin. The analytical approaches to assessing release of those individual mast cell products are evaluated. In general, the diagnosis and investigation of patients with systemic mast cell activation can best be accomplished by concerted use of histologic examination of key tissues together with analysis of chemical markers of the mast cell.