The autonomic nervous system controls all the involuntary actions in the body, like heart rate, digestion, and urination. When something goes wrong with the autonomic nervous system, it’s known as autonomic dysfunction.
One common type of autonomic dysfunction is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). POTS is a condition that causes an abnormally high heart rate when you stand up. It affects a range of people but is common in women and girls aged 15 to 50. There’s no cure for POTS, but there are treatments that can help.
What is POTS
POTS is a disorder that affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls all the things we do unconsciously, like breathing, digesting food and keeping our heart rate stable.
What are the symptoms of POTS?
The symptoms of POTS are often different from person to person. Some people may experience light-headedness, feeling faint, dizziness, or feeling like they will blackout when they stand up. Others may have chest pain, headache, nausea, or vomiting. Many people with POTS also have problems with their gastrointestinal system, such as constipation or diarrhoea.
POTS is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are similar to other conditions. It can be mistaken for anxiety, depression, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome.
What causes POTS?
There is no single cause of POTS, as it is a complex disorder. Some possible causes include:
- A problem with the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary activities like heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion)
- Viral infections
- Autoimmune disorders (conditions where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues)
How can you test for POTS?
Some tests that may help diagnose POTS include an upright tilt table test, a measure of the patient’s cardiac output after exercise, and a measurement of the patient’s plasma norepinephrine levels.
How is POTS treated?
There is no definitive treatment for POTS. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as the treatment for POTS may vary depending on the condition’s underlying cause. Treatment options include medications, supplements, and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.
Some treatments that may be recommended for POTS include:
- Adjusting fluid and salt intake
- Physical therapy
- Medication such as beta blockers or ivabradine
The following measures may help you reduce your symptoms:
- drink plenty of fluids until your urine is pale yellow
- keep active, but pace yourself and choose your exercise carefully – swimming, lower limb resistance training, walking, jogging and pilates can help you stay fit and build muscle (strong calf muscles should help pump blood back to your heart)
- elevate the head end of your bed so you’re not sleeping fully horizontal
- try wearing support tights or other forms of compression clothing to improve blood flow in your legs
- avoid standing for long periods
- rise slowly after lying down – sit for a while before standing
- avoid drinking lots of caffeine or alcohol
- include more salt in your diet; however, this is not advisable if you have high blood pressure or kidney or heart disease, so ask your doctor first
Can POTS be prevented?
There is no prevention for POTS. However, early diagnosis and treatment may help lessen the symptoms.