Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is a form of dysautonomia -- or the abnormal functioning of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The ANS is absolutely vital to keeping ones body working properly, as it is a regulatory system that helps maintain homeostasis. It does so by subconsciously controlling major functions including, but not limited to:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- body temperature
In the case of dysautonomia, one, some, or all bodily functions can be affected (including ones not listed here).
With POTS, the main ANS malfunction has to do with blood pressure and its response to gravity. When an average person stands their blood pressure drops slightly, the ANS recognizes this and causes his/her heart rate to increase momentarily until homeostasis is reached. For most POTS patients, upon standing (postural) their blood pressure plummets (orthostatic), causing the heart to work significantly harder to regulate blood pressure resulting in tachycardia, which can be extremely disconcerting.
Because of the ANS' inability to regulate this motion, blood isn't able to travel quickly enough to the brain causing dizziness, momentary loss of vision, and syncope (fainting). (Because of the radical nature of dysautonomia, there have also been cases in which patients experience a sharp increase in blood pressure and brachycardia/bradycardia).
The debilitating fatigue which comes with POTS is crippling, and goes for beyond just being "tired". Many patients have been confined to bed for months, or even years, making it impossible to hold a job, take care of his/her children, or even have enough energy to shower. This is because POTS patients tend to have an abnormally high resting heart rate -- combine that with any small movement or standing and the heart rate increases significantly (I have experienced 200+ BPM just upon standing up to greet my husband getting home from work). One can understand the fatigue by realizing, from the view of the heart, its as if POTS patients are running marathons all day, every day, for years.
Unfortunately, most -- if not all -- POTSies have extreme difficulty getting diagnosed because very few doctors are aware of the condition. In fact, quite often it takes a couple years to do so and, even then, its such an unknown syndrome that many doctors don't know how to proceed. POTS is treatable; however, with the lack of studies, some treatments that might help one person could actually make symptoms worse in another. It is important to find a doctor who is knowledgeable in POTS and can work with you, and the specifics of your condition.
How can you help? Share as much information as you can; inform doctors, friends, family members; the more people that are knowledgeable might just save someone many months of being stuck in bed watching life move by.
Also, please check out The Spoon Theory for anyone who has, or knows someone with, an invisible illness.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you who have sent me encouraging emails, explaining how this website has helped. It means more to me than you'll ever know!