Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS, also postural tachycardia syndrome, PoTS) is a condition of dysautonomia, more specifically orthostatic intolerance, in which a change from the supine position to an upright position causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate, called tachycardia. By the definition of POTS used of at the Mayo Clinic, this is not accompanied by a fall in blood pressure.Several studies show a decrease in cerebral blood flow with systolic and diastolic cerebral blood flow (CBF) velocity decreased 44 and 60%, respectively. Patients with POTS have problems maintaining homeostasis when changing position, i.e. moving from one chair to another or reaching above their heads. Many patients also experience symptoms when stationary or even while lying down.
Symptoms present in various degrees of severity depending on the patient. POTS can be severely debilitating. Some patients are unable to attend school or work, and especially severe cases can completely incapacitate the patient.
The hallmark symptom of POTS is an increase in heart rate from the supine to upright position of more than 30 beats per minute or to a heart rate greater than 120 beats per minute within 12 minutes of head-up tilt.
This tachycardic response is sometimes accompanied by a decrease in blood pressure and a wide variety of symptoms associated with hypotension (however, by the name of this syndrome itself, and essentially by definition, the blood pressure does not usually drop in POTS. Low blood pressure upon standing is an entirely distinct entity called orthostatic hypotension). Low blood pressure of any cause may promote the following:
lightheadedness, sometimes called pre-syncope (pre-fainting) dizziness (but not vertigo, which is also called dizziness)
Excessive thirst (polydipsia)
Chronic or acute hypoperfusion of tissues and organs in the upper parts of the body are thought to cause the following symptoms:
chest pain and discomfort
Autonomic dysfunction is thought to cause additional gastrointestinal symptoms:
Cerebral hypoperfusion, when present, can cause cognitive and emotive difficulties. Symptoms that persist in the supine (recumbent) state are difficult to attribute to “cerebral hypoperfusion” and more probably reflect an element of depression or simple fatigue:
decreased mental stamina
difficulty finding the right word
Inappropriate levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine lead to anxiety-like symptoms:
Symptoms of POTS overlap considerably with those of generalized anxiety disorder, and a misdiagnosis of an anxiety disorder is not uncommon.
The above notwithstanding, it should be emphasized that prolonged inactivity of any cause, especially when much time is being spent in the supine (recumbent) position, will lead to a diminution in the usual orthostatic reflex. In other words, chronic inactivity with frequent assumption of the supine position will lead to the hallmark signs of POTS. This raises the question as to whether, in some cases, POTS is actually an epiphenomenon, and has resulted from prolonged inactivity. Since many POTS sufferers feel compelled to remain supine, the potential for a vicious cycle is obvious.
POTS is often accompanied by vasovagal syncope, also called “neurally mediated hypotension” (NMH) or “neurocardiogenic syncope” (NCS). Vasovagal syncope is a fainting reflex due to a profound drop in blood pressure. Autonomic dysfunction that occurs with these disorders causes blood to inappropriately pool in the limbs away from the heart, lungs, and brain. The combination of misdirected bloodflow and hypotension will invoke syncope. Tachycardia associated with POTS may be a cardiac response to restore cerebral perfusion.
POTS may be a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome in patients that exhibit signs of orthostatic intolerance. Treating POTS will greatly improve or even eliminate disabling fatigue for these patients.
Some patients with fibromyalgia complain of dysautonomia-related symptoms. Treating these patients for POTS will often improve myofascial and neuropathic pain.
Autonomic dysfunction is most likely responsible for irritable bowel syndrome in many patients as well.
Patients with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome may also have POTS. Joint hypermobility is a feature of the most common subtype of Ehlers-Danlos.
Some POTS patients experience symptoms associated with restless leg syndrome. Treating POTS should also relieve these symptoms.
Some findings link this with Hypermobility
A small percentage of pediatric cases of POTS have been associated with moderate to severe memory loss.
The causes of POTS are not fully known. Most patients develop symptoms in their teenage years during a period of rapid growth and see gradual improvement into their mid-twenties. Others develop POTS after a viral or bacterial infection such as mononucleosis or pneumonia. Some patients develop symptoms after experiencing some sort of trauma such as a car accident or injury. Women can also develop POTS during or after pregnancy. These patients generally have a poorer prognosis.
In one large test, 12.5% of 152 patients with POTS reported a family history of orthostatic intolerance, suggesting that there is a genetic inheritance associated with POTS.
So far no one has provided an explanation for POTS which is applicable to all sufferers, however there are many theories;
Alpha-receptor dysfunction may be occurring in some POTS patients. Alpha-1 receptors cause peripheral vasoconstriction when stimulated. Alpha-1 receptor supersensitivity may be causing dysautonomia in some patients.
Beta-receptor supersensitivity may occur with hyperadrenergic states in some people with POTS.
Hyperdopaminergic states may be the underlying problem for some people with orthostatic intolerance. Some patients have been found to have a significant increase in upright dopamine levels. Free plasma norepinephrine also tends to be higher in these patients.
Reduced venous return is one of the main mechanisms that causes POTS symptoms. Venous return can be reduced due to conditions such as low plasma volume (hypovolemia), venous pooling and denervation. A hyperadrenergic state may result as the body attempts to compensate for these abnormalities.
Sympathetic Overactivity is observed in many POTS patients. The sympathetic overactivity can be secondary to a number of factors, some of which may be peripheral denervation, venous pooling, or end-organ dysfunction. Sympathetic underactivity can also occur in some forms of orthostatic intolerance, such as pure autonomic failure.
POTS can be difficult to diagnose. A routine physical examination and standard blood tests will not indicate POTS. A tilt table test is vital to diagnosing POTS, although all symptoms must be considered before a final diagnosis is made. Tests to rule out Addison’s Disease, pheochromocytoma, electrolyte imbalance, Lyme Disease, Celiac Disease, and various food allergies are usually performed. A blood test may be performed to verify abnormally high levels of norepinephrine present in some POTS patients.
Between 75 and 80 percent of POTS patients are female and of the menstruating age. Most male patients develop POTS in their early to mid-teens during a growth spurt or following a viral or bacterial infection. Some women also develop POTS symptoms during or after pregnancy.
Most POTS patients will see symptom improvement over the course of several years. Those who develop POTS in their early to mid teens during a period of rapid growth will most likely see complete symptom resolution by their mid twenties. Patients with post-viral POTS will also usually improve greatly or see a full symptom resolution. Adults who develop POTS, especially women during or after pregnancy, usually see milder improvement and can be plagued with their condition for life. Rarely, a teenager who develops POTS will gradually worsen overtime and have lifelong symptoms. Patients with secondary POTS as a consequence of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome will also usually struggle with symptoms for life. In some patients the only cure for POTS is time.
Recovered individuals do complain of occasional, non-debilitating recurrence of symptoms associated with autonomic dysfunction including dizzy spells, lightheadedness, flushing, transient syncope, and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Most patients will respond to some form of treatment. Lifestyle changes, particularly drinking extra water and avoiding trigger situations such as standing still or getting hot, are necessary for all patients. Some patients also benefit from the addition of other treatments, such as certain medications.
Drinking more water improves symptoms for nearly all patients. Most patients are encouraged to drink at least 64 ounces (two liters) of water or other fluids each day.
Alcohol has been shown to drastically exacerbate all types of orthostatic intolerance due to its vasodilation and dehydration properties. In addition to its adverse effects, it interacts unfavorably with many of the medications prescribed to POTS patients.
Eating frequent, small meals can reduce gastrointestinal symptoms associated with POTS by requiring the diversion of less blood to the abdomen.
Increasing salt intake, by adding salt to food, taking salt tablets, or drinking sports drinks and other electrolyte solutions, is a treatment used for many people with POTS; however, salt is not recommended for all patients. Increasing salt is an effective way to raise blood pressure in many patients with orthostatic hypotension by helping the body retain water and thereby expand blood volume. Different physicians recommend different amounts of sodium to their patients..
Diets high in carbohydrates have been connected to impaired vasoconstrictive action. Eating foods with lower carbohydrate levels can mildly improve POTS symptoms.
Caffeine helps some POTS patients due to its stimulative effects; however, other patients report a worsening of symptoms with caffeine intake.
Tilting of bed to an angle of roughly 30 degrees can also help induce symptom reduction.
Physical therapy and exercise
Exercise is very important for maintaining muscle strength and avoiding deconditioning. Though many POTS patients report difficulty exercising, some form of exercise is essential to controlling symptoms and eventually, improving the condition. Exercises that improve leg and abdominal strength may aid in improving the muscle pump and therefore preventing pooling of blood in the abdomen and lower extremities.
Aerobic exercise performed for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, is sometimes recommended for patients who can tolerate it. Certain modalities of exercise may be more tolerable initially, such as riding a recumbent bicycle or swimming. However, as tolerable, upright exercise may benefit the participant through orthostatic training. All exercise programs for POTS patients should begin with low intensity exercises for a short duration and progress slowly.
Several classes of drugs often provide symptom control and relief for POTS patients. Treatments must be carefully tested due to medication sensitivity often associated with POTS patients, and each patient will respond to different therapies in different ways.
The first line of treatment for POTS is usually fludrocortisone, or Florinef, a mineralcorticoid used to increase sodium retention and thus increase blood volume and blood pressure. An increase in sodium and water intake must coincide with fludrocortisone therapy for effective treatment.
Dietary increases in sodium and sodium supplements are often used.
Beta blockers such as atenolol and propanolol are often prescribed to treat POTS. These medications work by blocking the effects of epinephrineand norepinephrine released by the autonomic nervous system. Beta blockers also reduce sympathetic activity by blocking sympathetic impulses. For some patients, beta blockers increase POTS symptoms. Beta blockers may be dangerous to individuals with asthma or allergies.
Midodrine (Proamatine), is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat orthostatic hypotension, a condition related to POTS. It is a stimulant that causes vasoconstriction and thereby increases blood pressure and allows more blood to return to the upper parts of the body. Use of midodrine is often discontinued due to intolerable side-effects, and it is known to cause supine hypertension (high blood pressure when lying down).
Antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, and Paxil, can be extremely effective in re-regulating the autonomic nervous system and raising blood pressure. Some studies indicate that serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Effexor and Cymbalta are even more effective. Tricyclic antidepressants, tetracyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors are also occasionally, but rarely, prescribed. A combination of two antidepressants, usually an SSRI or SNRI with Wellbutrin or Remeron, is also shown to be very effective.
Medications used to treat attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder such as Ritalin and Adderall effectively increase norepinehprine and dopamine levels, thereby increasing vasoconstriction and blood pressure.
In the UKIvabradine has been used to treat patients with POTS symptoms with good effect. Ivabradine acts by reducing the heart rate in a mechanism different from beta blockers andcalcium channel blockers, two commonly prescribed antianginal drugs. It is classified as a cardiotonic agent.
Anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin, can be used to combat imbalances of adrenaline usually seen with POTS patients.
Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, or ACE inhibitors, are used to increase vascular capacity, cardiac output, and sodium and water excretion.
Clonidine can work in patients with reduced sympathetic activity. Ironically an anti-hypertensive drug, Clonidine promotes production and release of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Disopyramide, or Norpace, is an antiarrhythmic medication that inhibits the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Erythropoietin, used to treat anemia via intravenous infusion, is very effective at increasing blood volume. It is seldom used, however, due to the dangers of increasing the hematocrit, the inconvenience of intravenous infusion, and its prohibitively expensive cost.
Pregabalin, or Lyrica, an anticonvulsant drug, has been shown to be especially effective in treating neuropathic pain associated with POTS. In fact, Lyrica is currently the only prescription drug approved by the FDA to treat fibromyalgia. Some POTS patients also report improvement in concentration and energy while on Lyrica.
Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, over the counter decongestants, increase vasoconstriction by promoting the release of norepinephrine.
Pyridostigmine, or Mestinon, inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, promoting autonomic nervous system activity. It is especially effective in patients who exhibit symptoms of excessive sympathetic activity.
Theophylline, a drug used to treat respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma, is occasionally prescribed at low doses for POTS patients. Theophylline increases cardiac output, increases blood pressure, and stimulates epinephrine and norepinephrine production. Due to its very narrow therapeutic index, Theophylline is known to cause a wide variety of side-effects and even toxicity.
Women who report a worsening of symptoms during menstruation will often use combined (containing both estrogen and progestin) forms of hormonal contraception to prevent hormonal changes and an aggravation of their condition.
External body pressure
Pressure garments can reduce symptoms associated with orthostatic intolerance by constricting blood pressures with external body pressure.
Compression devices, such as abdominal binders and compression stockings, help to reduce the amount of pooling blood. Compression stockings should be at least 30–40 mm Hg and will work best if they are waist high. Compression stockings should be fitted to achieve the greatest benefit.
Changes in environment
Some patients report that symptoms worsen with changes in barometric pressure. (For instance, before a thunderstorm.) These patients may find relief by moving to a new location where barometric pressure is relatively stable, i.e. San Diego.
POTS was first named and identified by Schondorf and Low in 1993; however, the syndrome has been described in medical studies dating back to at least 1940. Hypertension associated with POTS has been previously described as the “hyperadrenergic syndrome” by Streeten and as “idiopathic hypovolemia” by Fouad. Hypotension associated with POTS has been previously described as the “neurally mediated hypotension” form of POTS.
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