After years of research, we’re finally able to provide some answers to people living with the heart condition known as POTS. The letters stand for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.
Characterized by fatigue and dizziness, light-headedness (or a feeling of a heart or digestive problem when standing), women are more susceptible than men, and it tends to occur in younger, pre-menopausal women.
According to the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network, POTS is currently affecting between 1 and 3 million Americans, primarily women under age 35.
➡ The disorder renders women (and some men) unable to stand or walk without the fear of fainting.
Although POTS often starts out feeling like a heart or digestive problem, it is actually a disorder of the autonomic nervous system.
➡ That’s the part of the nervous system that supplies the internal organs, including our stomachs, intestines, liver, kidneys, and bladder.
➡ It’s a busy dude, managing our digestion, breathing, urination, and even our sexual arousal.
When all is working as it should, this system operates seamlessly behind the scenes.
➡ But it’s responsible for so many of our functions that when it goes wrong, it can suddenly feel as if even the most basic actions, like walking across the room, are much more difficult.
The primary symptom of the heart condition known as POTS is tachycardia, (a fast heart rate) when standing up.
➡ To be officially diagnosed with the syndrome, your heart rate would have to increase by at least 30 beats per minute from the normal (60-100 beats per minute) or climb above 100 bpm when you move from lying down to standing up.
That fast heart rate may not sound like a big deal, but over time it leads to other symptoms like:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach aches
- Low libido
- A feeling like all your blood has drained from your head down to your feet
And, perhaps worst of all, crippling fatigue.
Other symptoms include:
- Inability to hold your bladder and/or bowels at times
- “Foggy” brain
- Sleeplessness, leading to exhaustion
Sadly, the exact cause is unknown, leaving patients who experience it afraid that they’re dying.
But what IS this heart condition known as POTS?
This unusual condition causes your heart rate to speed up by 30 or more beats per minute over the norm, but with little or no change in blood pressure.
➡ This is the opposite of the condition known as orthostatic hypotension where the blood pressure, and very often the heart rate severely drops when standing from a sitting or lying down position.
The increase in heart rate may mean that your cardiovascular system is working overtime to support blood pressure and blood flow to your brain. But we just don’t know why.
And, although typically not life-threatening, it is life-altering.
The current treatment protocol, (which might not work for everyone – or work with varying degrees of success) includes: What else?
➡ **A higher sodium diet
**Increasing salt and fluid intake can help increase blood volume and reduce symptoms
➡ Drinking 60 to 80 ounces (2 to 2.5 quarts) of water every day.
The good news is that you can regain control of your body and significantly improve over time.
➡ Swimming, walking on a treadmill or just plain walking for one to three minutes a day to start will be very helpful.
➡ Light weight training is particularly important for people with POTS because building muscle mass is critical for pumping blood back to the heart, which helps prevent fainting.
Thankfully there’s more research, interest, and knowledge about the heart condition named POTS than in the past. In fact, there’s now some evidence that it may have connections to the autoimmune system, which is the body’s natural defense system.
Researchers are currently studying 400 patients to see if POTS is, in fact, an autoimmune disease.
➡ Genetic factors may also play a role.
The two most important clues so far are excessive joint flexibility, and that it can be triggered after an acute viral infection such as the flu.
POTS patients commonly report that they’ve had a bacterial or viral infection, such as mononucleosis, flu, or gastroenteritis. But they seem unable to recover and continue to experience fatigue, flu-like illness, dizziness, nausea, and headaches.
What to do if you suspect a diagnosis of POTS based on the symptoms described here?
Start with your general practitioner, explain all of your symptoms and ask for a referral to a specialist (often a Cardiologist) working in this field.
What NOT to do?
Never, ever, ignore the clues your body sends you.
Whether it’s a new kind of pain, flu-like symptoms, dizziness, recurrent nausea, weakness, etc. Every symptom that lasts for longer than 3 days needs to be investigated.
I believe the words “be proactive” apply, especially when it could potentially save your precious life.