What is POTS?

Learn more about a physical condition that one of our students faces.


Jesse Orrico

A model of a human heart

POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, is a type of Dysautonomia. It causes a change in blood flow, blood pressure, and pulse when a person changes postural positions.

According to Dysautonomia International: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, these positions could be: going from laying down to sitting, sitting to standing, or standing to lying down. When this happens, different outcomes are possible. You may pass out, your vision can blur, and balance problems can occur.

Kadrien Earp has this type of Dysautonomia, and shared some insight on what she experiences.

“I have never passed out after standing up, but I have passed out due to stomach problems and heat. Most of the time when I stand up I have blurred vision and get dizzy,” Earp stated.

Due to these issues, it can become very hard for people to not trip or hurt themselves when changing postural positions. Most people have these symptoms, but that doesn’t mean they all do. They vary from person to person just like any other sickness.

Earp disclosed how her symptoms affect her, in contrast to others with the condition.

“One of my worst symptoms is tachycardia. It can happen at any time, it sometimes keeps me awake at night [and] also raises my body temperature. A lot of people have a cold intolerance while I have the opposite—a heat intolerance. I am always hot even when it is 67 degrees inside my house. I can go from being cold one minute to needing a fan on me the next second.”

It truly makes my life 10 times harder.

— Kadrien Earp

The degree of their symptoms also varies. Because of these different experiences, there are certain tests that work better for some. This is why there are three different ways to tell if POTS is an individual’s type of Dysautonomia.

The first one is the monitoring technique. For about two weeks, you watch what you eat, how you feel, what medicine you take, and pretty much everything else you can think of. You then report it to your doctor, and they will analyze how your heart rate is affected by all of these things.

Earp stated that this was the type of test that she used to get diagnosed.

“I had my symptoms monitored for two weeks as my doctor didn’t want to have a tilt table test done unless completely necessary as the test could cause me to go into a flare.”

The tilt table test is more complex. You would go to a medical facility and lie down on a special table. Doctors attach different monitors to the patient’s body, and the doctors move the monitors to different places while tilting the body, to monitor how the body reacts to the tilts. If the patient faints or their heart rate and blood pressure change substantially, then it is a large indication that they have POTS. It lasts for about 15 minutes to determine the reaction of the patient.

The last and final technique is the “poor man’s” tilt table test. It is similar to the regular tilt table test except that it is done in a regular doctor’s office and doesn’t have a special table. The doctor would use a pulse oximeter and a blood pressure cuff. They would have the patient move into the different postural positions to see how their body reacts.

Patients can become diagnosed by a cardiologist or a neurologist—doctors who understand the science of the heart and brain, respectively. They both work together to come up with solutions that could explain why patients are experiencing these symptoms, and eventually narrow it down to Dysautonomia. At that point, it is a matter of what type it is.

POTS impacts about 2,000,000 people with Dysautonomia. This means that you are more likely to have POTS than any other variance of this condition. This is why it is so important to be informed about this medical condition when so many people have it.