So… What Exactly is POTS?

Telling someone you have a chronic illness can be tricky.  What makes it ten times harder is telling someone you have an obscure illness that no one has heard of and involves a variety of symptoms and effects every person differently.  What is POTS?  This is a question I get every time I tell someone I’m sick.  Or I get a confused blank stare, which translates to the same thing.  Being afflicted by something no one has heard of can be hard work, you are constantly explaining your illness, and trying to validate yourself in the process.  Sometimes I feel like shouting “Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!”

POTS stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It is a form of Dysautonomia, which is a broad term used to classify disorders of the autonomic nervous system.  There are a lot of ways someone can get POTS, it can be genetic, post-concussive, or come following an illness, anything from a stomach bug to mono – just to name a few.  Because POTS is rather new to the medical world when it comes to its identification there isn’t much known about it, and it isn’t widely known.  POTS is more common in women, and said to affect mainly adolescents.  It is most distinguishable by the orthostatic intolerance patients experience, from blood vessels not constricting properly.  When going from laying flat to standing they typically have a drop in blood pressure and a spike in heart rate, an increase of 40 bpm is the number used for diagnosis. The drop in blood pressure results in blood pooling in the extremities, often visible through the skin making arms and lower legs appear red or purple.  The lack of blood flow to the brain can make the patient dizzy or light-headed, and result in the patient fainting, collapsing, or experiencing episodes of syncope.   A few of the more common symptoms a patient can experience include issues with body temperature regulation, fatigue, brain fog, GI motility, and exercise intolerance. Because POTS is a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, it can affect any and all of the duties your body should perform subconsciously.  For more information on POTS, check out the links listed on the What is POTS? page, found here.

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