Have you been recently diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or do you suspect that may be affected by it? If so, you may feel confused or uncertain about what this condition can mean for your life and overall well-being.
What is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) as a chronic medical condition characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate that occurs upon standing up. It is a form of dysautonomia, a disorder of the autonomic nervous system which controls involuntary bodily functions. POTS primarily affects young individuals, mostly women, but can occur in any age group.
Why do people develop POTS?
The exact cause of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is not fully understood, and its key causes can vary among different people. POTS is a complex disorder that may arise due to a combination of factors. Here are some potential causes and contributing factors:
1. Autonomic Dysfunction.
POTS is considered a form of dysautonomia, which means there is dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that regulates involuntary bodily functions. It is thought that abnormalities in the ANS, specifically in the regulation of blood flow and heart rate, play a role in the development of POTS.
2. Blood Volume and Circulation.
Some studies suggest that people with POTS may have abnormalities in blood volume or blood circulation. It is believed that blood pools in the lower extremities instead of being properly circulated, leading to decreased venous return to the heart and reduced cardiac output.
3. Hyperadrenergic POTS.
In some individuals, POTS may be associated with excessive levels of norepinephrine (a stress hormone) or increased sympathetic nervous system activity. This subtype of POTS is known as hyperadrenergic POTS and is characterized by more pronounced adrenergic symptoms such as palpitations and high blood pressure.
4. Autoimmune Disorders.
POTS has been observed in individuals with certain autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, and celiac disease. It is hypothesized that autoimmunity may contribute to the development of POTS in some cases.
5. Viral Infections.
Some cases of POTS have been associated with prior viral infections such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Coxsackie virus, and others. It is believed that these infections may trigger an autoimmune response or directly affect the autonomic nervous system.
6. Genetic Predisposition.
There is evidence to suggest that genetic factors may contribute to the development of POTS. Some individuals may have an inherited susceptibility to autonomic dysfunction or abnormalities in the structure or function of the cardiovascular system.
It’s important to note that POTS can also occur secondary to other medical conditions, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Lyme disease, mitochondrial disorders, or certain neurological disorders. In these cases, treating the underlying condition may help alleviate POTS symptoms. Further research is still needed to fully understand the causes and mechanisms of POTS. It is likely that a combination of genetic, physiological, and environmental factors contributes to the development of this syndrome.
What are the main symptoms of POTS?
The main symptoms of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) can vary from person to person, but they generally involve a combination of the following, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic:
1. Excessive Heart Rate Increase.
The hallmark symptom of POTS is an abnormally rapid increase in heart rate upon assuming an upright position. Typically, the heart rate rises by 30 beats per minute or more, or exceeds 120 beats per minute, within 10 minutes of standing up. This heart rate increase may persist throughout standing or may resolve after a period of time.
2. Orthostatic Intolerance.
People with POTS often experience symptoms of orthostatic intolerance, which refers to difficulties in maintaining an upright posture. These symptoms are usually relieved when lying down. Common orthostatic intolerance symptoms include:
– Lightheadedness or dizziness
– Fainting or near-fainting (syncope or pre-syncope)
– Feeling faint or “woozy”
– Vertigo (a spinning sensation)
– Unsteady gait or balance problems
3. Autonomic Symptoms.
POTS affects the autonomic nervous system, which regulates various bodily functions. As a result, individuals with POTS may experience a range of autonomic symptoms, such as:
– Palpitations or fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeats
– Chest pain or discomfort
– Shortness of breath
– Rapid shallow breathing
– Excessive sweating
– Temperature regulation problems (heat or cold intolerance)
– Blurred vision or visual disturbances
– Gastrointestinal issues (nausea, bloating, abdominal pain)
4. Fatigue and Exercise Intolerance.
Many people with POTS experience persistent fatigue and reduced stamina. Physical exertion, even with mild activity, can quickly lead to exhaustion. This exercise intolerance can significantly impact daily activities and quality of life.
5. Cognitive and Neurological Symptoms.
POTS can affect cognitive function, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory, and mental clarity. This symptom is often referred to as “brain fog.” Additionally, individuals may experience headaches, migraines, and sensory disturbances.
What happens if POTS is left untreated or unmanaged?
If Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is left untreated or poorly managed, it can significantly impact your quality of life and overall sense of well-being. The symptoms of POTS can be debilitating and may interfere with daily activities, work, and social interactions. Here are some potential consequences of untreated POTS, as outlined by medical experts at Dysautonomia International:
1. Impaired Daily Functioning.
POTS symptoms, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue, can make it challenging to carry out daily tasks and responsibilities. Standing or remaining upright for extended periods may be difficult, leading to limitations in work, school, and personal activities.
2. Decreased Quality of Life.
POTS can have a negative impact on an individual’s quality of life. The persistent symptoms, including fatigue, exercise intolerance, and cognitive difficulties, can affect one’s physical, emotional, and social well-being.
3. Increased Risk of Falls and Injuries.
The orthostatic intolerance symptoms of POTS, such as dizziness and fainting, can increase the risk of falls and injuries. Fainting or near-fainting episodes can occur unexpectedly, putting individuals at risk of accidents and fractures.
4. Emotional and Psychological Impact.
Living with chronic symptoms and limitations can take a toll on mental health. Individuals with untreated POTS may experience increased stress, anxiety, depression, and frustration related to their condition and its impact on their daily lives.
5. Secondary Complications.
POTS can potentially lead to secondary complications if left untreated. These may include deconditioning (loss of muscle tone and physical fitness), weight changes, and sleep disturbances. Additionally, individuals with POTS may be at a higher risk of developing conditions such as venous insufficiency, blood clots, and gastrointestinal issues.
If you suspect you have POTS or are experiencing symptoms associated with POTS, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management strategies. Early intervention and treatment can help minimize the impact of the condition and improve outcomes.