Looking for a new tongue twister? Then try saying this three times fast: postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Whew! Don’t worry if you found this to be a mouthful – it’s just as hard to type!
While postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, may be a mouthful to say, it’s a heart condition primarily affecting women. Approximately 500,000 women in the United States suffer from POTS. While POTS can occur at any age, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, it’s more common in young women. The majority of POTS patients in the U.S. – approximately 80 percent - range in age from 15 to 50 years.
So, what exactly does POTS do? Well, imagine the following scenario: it’s Friday night and you’re lying on the couch watching a movie on TV with your family. During the commercial, you jump up to grab some popcorn from the kitchen. As you stand, you become light headed and dizzy. Your heart rate increases and becomes very rapid – more than 120 beats a minute. You begin to see spots and start to faint. The only thing that relieves these symptoms is to lie back down. In addition, you’re abnormally tired and experience unusual fatigue. You’re also limited in how long you can stand at a time or exercise because of POTS symptoms. This is life with POTS.
POTS symptoms occur because even though the heart rate is high, blood flow to the heart is reduced upon standing. Symptoms may be worse just before the menstrual cycle. Often, the first episode does not occur until pregnancy, although other triggers such as surgery or some other type of trauma and illness may contribute to POTS.
Currently, there isn’t a “cure” for POTS or even a single treatment approach. Treatment options range from dietary changes such as avoiding alcohol, heavy meals, and adding additional salt. Others are able to treat POTS symptoms by tilting the bed so that the head is elevated during sleep. Other techniques designed to raise blood pressure before getting standing, such as drinking two glasses of water, may be effective. Medications, such as beta receptor blockers, fludrocortisone and midodrine, may be prescribed. While exercise is difficult for POTS patients, there is some indication that exercise may help alleviate symptoms.
Exercise Training Program Improves Outcomes In "Grinch Syndrome" Patients, Medical News Today, 21 Jun 2011, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/229124.php
NINDS Postural Tachycardia Syndrome Information Page, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, 12 Mar 2009,
Dysautonomia, Dysautonomia Information Network, http://www.dinet.org/pots_an_overview.htm
Reviewed June 29, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton