Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is a disorder that occurs when your heart rate increases rapidly after you sit up or stand. There’s no cure for POTS, but medications and lifestyle changes may help.
POTS is a blood circulation disorder. It causes your heart to beat faster than normal in an effort to move blood around the body. This usually happens after sitting up or standing up, and most often within the first 10 minutes of those movements.
Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, shakiness, and heart palpitations, among others. While it’s not deadly, POTS can cause symptoms and complications that interfere with daily life and tasks.
Learn more about POTS, how it’s diagnosed, and what the outlook is like if you have it.
When you move from sitting or lying down to standing, your body activates a lot of automatic functions, including adjusting your heart rate and blood pressure to keep blood flowing. This helps make sure adequate blood supply reaches all parts of the body, including your heart.
POTS occurs when blood pools in the lower half of your body, and your body doesn’t have enough blood for the heart. Your body responds by increasing your heart rate in an effort to move more blood from the pooled areas to the heart and upper body.
In adults, a heart rate increase of 30 beats per minute (bpm) in the first 10 minutes after moving from a horizontal position to standing is a sign of POTS. In children, a heart rate of 40 bpm in that same timeframe is considered a sign of POTS.
It’s not entirely clear what causes POTS. There’s also no cure. But, doctors have a series of treatments that can help people with POTS live a typical life and avoid complications or life-interrupting symptoms.
Symptoms of POTS include:
- exaggerated increase in heart rate after standing or sitting
- difficulty thinking
- blurred vision
- forceful heartbeat or heart palpitations
- difficulty concentrating
People with POTS also usually can’t tolerate exercise. The increased activity can worsen symptoms. But, exercise can be a helpful tool for treating POTS. It just needs to be handled appropriately.
There’s no single test for POTS. Instead, doctors will work to first rule out potential causes, including orthostatic hypertension. Without obvious issues, including dehydration or blood loss, they’ll turn to other possible explanations. One is likely to be POTS.
To determine if your symptoms are the result of this blood circulation disorder, doctors may do one of these tests:
- A tilt-table test: During a tilt-table test, you’re secured to a table and then raised to varying degrees while vitals such as heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen are monitored.
- Standing test: POTS symptoms can worsen with prolonged standing. This test will monitor for changes to vitals while you stand for a period of about 10 minutes.
There’s no known cure for POTS. Instead, most people are prescribed a combination of possible treatments to address symptoms. These include medications, physical therapy, diet changes, among others.
Treatments for POTS are tailored to each individual with the condition. Not everyone has the same symptoms or triggers. That gives doctors the opportunity to match possible treatments to the worst symptoms.
These treatments may include:
- Fluid: It’s important to stay hydrated for several reasons, but people with POTS should be especially aware of how much fluid they drink in a day. The excess fluids can help the body maintain adequate blood pressure. This will help even out blood circulation.
- Diet: Salt may be beneficial to people with POTS. Eating extra salt can help increase pressure and blood flow. But be careful adding extra salt to your diet without consultation with a doctor. Too much salt otherwise can have a negative impact on health.
- Exercise: For some people with POTS, exercise can worsen symptoms. But physical therapy and designed exercise may be helpful. You can build up your tolerance and reduce symptoms when sitting or standing.
- Compression socks: These aren’t just for the hospital bed. Compression socks can help improve circulation and keep blood flowing when you’re sitting or standing.
- Avoid triggers: It’s important to know what events or activities might make symptoms or POTS worse. For example, some people find the symptoms are worse in heat. Keeping cool may prevent these issues. You can work with a doctor to identify triggers and develop strategies to avoid or eliminate them.
POTS isn’t a deadly disease, but there are some serious complications.
For example, when blood pressure drops, you may become light-headed and dizzy. Some people may fall or faint when this happens. The risk of a fall brings with it the risk of hurting yourself, including hitting your head.
Furthermore, while some people experience mild symptoms of POTS, others can experience severe symptoms. These symptoms may interfere with a person’s daily tasks and responsibilities.
It’s not entirely clear who develops POTS, but certain people are more at risk.
- Women: POTS is more common in women than men. It usually develops during reproductive age, ages 15–50.
- Age: POTS is less common in children, and it’s more likely to develop in young adults and adolescents.
- Illness or trauma: It’s unclear why, but certain physical injuries or illnesses may trigger or increase a person’s risk for developing POTS. These include a viral illness, surgery, trauma, or significant illness.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy may also trigger POTS or increase a person’s risk for developing it.
POTS is less common in children, but they can develop a blood circulation disorder. Like for adults with the condition, treatments will aim to reduce symptoms and complications.
Over time, some children may see improvements in symptoms. In fact, it’s possible for POTS to disappear entirely. Your child’s doctor will continue to monitor your child and their symptoms as they grow to determine if they still have the syndrome.
Does POTS affect pregnancy?
Yes, POTS can affect pregnancies. Some people who have POTS before they become pregnant may see symptoms improve, while others see them increase or stabilize. What’s more, pregnancy may trigger or increase a person’s risk for developing POTS.
Does POTS go away?
There’s no cure for POTS, but some people may experience mild symptoms that cause few issues or symptoms and rarely interfere with their daily lives.
What is the life expectancy of someone with POTS?
POTS doesn’t affect a person’s life expectancy. It’s not a terminal disease.
POTS is a blood circulation disorder. For some people with it, the symptoms are mild, but others can have symptoms so severe they impact their daily lives and activities.
Treatments won’t cure POTS, but they can help reduce symptoms and make living with the condition more manageable.