Beyond being a mouthful, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (or POTS) is a potentially debilitating disorder that affects an estimated 300,000 Americans and 50,000 Canadians. Let’s start by breaking down what each of the words means:
- “Postural” refers to posture, or the exact way you carry yourself when you stand, sit, or lie down.
- “Orthostatic” translates literally to “still bones,” and it refers to an upright posture, such as the one you assume while you’re standing.
- “Tachycardia” means “an unusually fast heart rate.”
In short, then, POTS is a syndrome where an afflicted individual suffers from an unusually fast heart rate when he or she merely stands up from a sitting or lying position.
Every human body has to regularly readjust its various muscle groups and essential systems when shifting position, and that’s especially true for our cardiovascular system – if our blood vessels didn’t adjust their sizes when we move from lying down to standing, gravity would cause our blood to empty out of our heads and pool in our legs. Since this adjustment can take a few seconds, it’s the reason why we sometimes get dizzy when we sit up suddenly.
But while a healthy individual would quickly recover from this dizzy spell, the cardiovascular system of a person who suffers from POTS doesn’t adjust itself as quickly as it ought to. As such, his or her heart will start beating faster to keep up circulation and prevent blood from pooling in the legs until the blood vessels finally get with the program.
A doctor will diagnose a patient with POTS if his or her heart rate jumps by 30 beats per second or else if it goes up past 120 bps within ten minutes of having done nothing but stand up. POTS is obviously very hard on the heart, and it means that standing up demands three times as much energy as normal. It can sometimes be debilitating to the point where those who suffer from it are unable to work or engage in normal amounts of exercise.
Identifying The Causes Of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome
Unfortunately, another issue surrounding POTS is the fact that it’s still a poorly understood disorder. As such, while there are roughly 50,000 Canadians diagnosed with this condition, the actual number is likely higher, with the remainder either misdiagnosed or undiagnosed thanks to the disease’s lack of visibility.
There are a number of different circumstances which seem to be responsible for POTS. These include:
- Suffering from a severe virus
- Giving birth
- Significant physical trauma
The fact that giving birth is an instigator may explain why POTS is five times as common in women as it is in men, but regardless of the cause, the result is the same: a damaged or malfunctioning autonomic nervous system doesn’t respond quickly enough to changes in posture and so the heart has to make up the difference, resulting in a stressed heart and potentially high blood pressure.
In many cases POTS is also a symptom of a larger problem with the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This is the part of your nervous system which regulates the body functions you don’t have to actively think about: digestion, pupil dilation, respiration, and a variety of other systems which don’t otherwise regulate themselves or respond to direct commands, such as moving around or eating. An estimated one-third to one-half of POTS sufferers also have digestive troubles because the ANS either restricts blood flow to the digestive system, leading to nausea and indigestion, or it provides too much, leading to cramping and intestinal distress.
Working Out A Cure For Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome
With such a wide variety of causes, POTS also has a wide variety of solutions. POTS is very often a symptom of another ailment, and so curing this ailment will cure POTS in the bargain.
Sometimes the trouble is with the flow of blood itself. If a POTS patient is chronically dehydrated, he or she may simply need to drink more water, improving his or her circulation by increasing the percentage of fluids. This may also call for an increase in sodium intake, although this is certainly not recommended for patients with high blood pressure.
Other times the cause is simply a lack of exercise. If this is the case, the patient should engage in regular aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes at least three times each week, although their symptoms mean that they should probably restrict themselves to seated exercises like recumbent bicycling and rowing machines.
However, it’s also worth noting that POTS very often begins after a spinal injury or after a significant change that may permanently alter your posture, such as the growth spurt of puberty or the sudden weight gain and loss of pregnancy. Like the rest of your nerves, the autonomic nervous system runs through your spine into the rest of your body, which means that damage to the spine (whether it’s the acute damage of an accident or the chronic damage of poor posture) may affect the ANS and therefore be responsible for POTS.
As such, if you have POTS it may be worth your time to go to a chiropractor who can readjust your spine and correct your posture in order to take pressure off the nerves in your spinal cord. For instance, chiropractic biophysics, or CBP, is a treatment system in which a chiropractor analyzes a patient’s resting postures and compares it against the scientifically ideal triple curve.
The chiropractor can then use techniques like spinal manipulation, stretching, and mirror image adjustments to fix the patient’s spinal posture and therefore hopefully eliminate the symptoms of POTS. And should these treatments fail or prove unnecessary, a good chiropractor may be able to identify the actual issue and refer the patient to the correct specialist.
If you’ve been diagnosed with POTS, or if you find that you have an unusual amount of trouble standing up and walking around, you should consider seeing a chiropractor for a diagnosis. And if you live in Vancouver, you should make sure you see Dr. Stuart Kilian of Advantage Chiropractic.