Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is a form of dysautonomia, meaning it affects the part of the nervous system that controls automatic functions such as heart rate and digestion. It is also a type of orthostatic intolerance, meaning that the action of standing up can cause symptoms that can be relieved by sitting or lying down. This is also associated with tachycardia, or an abnormally fast heart rate. All in all, this means that those with POTS experience a wide variety of symptoms upon standing up, including increased heart rate or blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, tremors, pain in the chest or extremities, shortness of breath and diminished concentration. POTS impacts between one and three million Americans and is most common in women.
POTS can be diagnosed if a person’s heart rate is found to increase at least 30 bpm (beats per minute) upon standing and/or increase to 120 bpm upon standing. The cause of the disorder is uncertain but researchers are investigating several possible theories. There is no single treatment found to be effective for everyone with POTS, but often therapies that aim to relieve low blood volume or better regulate the circulatory system can help. A few drugs are being tested for effectiveness and some have even found that simple practices like drinking a lot of water or increasing salt intake can also help relieve symptoms.
POTS varies widely in severity. Some people experience mild symptoms and are able to continue with their regular activities and lifestyle (albeit with some modifications), while others have severe symptoms that render them unable to work or function independently. It is estimated that around 25% of people with POTS are legally disabled and unable to work. Someone with POTS has to exert around three times more energy to stand than those without the condition, which can make everyday tasks a struggle, even for those with milder symptoms. Doing housework, taking a shower or even eating can aggravate symptoms. Proper treatment can enable most people to improve and be able to stand with fewer symptoms.
Research is ongoing to identify the causes of POTS and discover new and more effective ways to treat the disorder. Many foundations exist to help fund this research and provide information and support to those living with POTS.