POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, can be very frightening. The condition causes the heart rate to spike when a person changes position from sitting to standing, which can lead to symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness, and even back-outs and fainting (syncope).
When this happens, it’s natural to worry that there’s something seriously wrong with your heart. In fact, it’s not unusual for patients to ask: Is POTS fatal or can POTS be deadly?
However, while the symptoms can be alarming, POTS is not life-threatening. The condition can be very distressing and debilitating though – but there’s lots we can do to help. Here, leading London cardiologist and POTS specialist Dr Syed Ahsan explains more:
Listen to a podcast featuring Dr Syed Ahsan in which he talks about everything from symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis to treatment and risk factors of POTS syndrome: Listen to Podcast.
As Dr Ahsan explains, POTS is not life-threatening. While the exact causes are often unclear, POTS symptoms are largely due to the sudden surge in heart rate triggered by standing, and the body not being able to pump blood back to the heart quickly enough – but this doesn’t mean the heart is suddenly going to stop working.
POTS can still have a big impact on your quality of life and wellbeing though, so it’s important that the condition is addressed and appropriately managed.
Getting a professional diagnosis is important, as many of the symptoms associated with POTS overlap with other conditions, including other heart problems and arrhythmias which may need to be ruled out. Our information video on ‘How is POTS diagnosed?’ explains more.
POTS can potentially affect anyone but is most common in young women in their teens, 20s and 30s. The severity can vary but it can have a big impact. As well as the acute symptoms triggered by standing, people with POTS often experience ongoing tiredness and fatigue too.
Anxiety is also common for people with POTS – this can be a factor in triggering or exacerbating symptoms, but can also arise as a response to the condition. Understanding more about POTS can help alleviate some of this anxiety. Our Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome ‘Conditions’ page explains more. You can find lots of information in our POTS information video playlist too.
As Dr Ahsan explains, managing POTS usually means taking a “multifactorial” approach. Sometimes other underlying conditions might play a part, so addressing these can help. There are also drugs that can help lower or control heart rate, but these aren’t always necessary and are only part of the picture.
When it comes to managing POTS, lifestyle measures are key. Making simple but lasting changes, particularly through a structured exercise programme and increased fluid intake, can have a profound effect. Because of the overlap with anxiety, taking steps to manage stress and any other psychological elements can also be very helpful. Some people find compression garments and dietary changes helpful too. Our ‘How is POTS syndrome treated?’ information video explains more.
The important thing to remember is that while POTS can be very distressing, by getting an accurate diagnosis and specialist advice, there’s lots we can do to help manage the symptoms – so you can carry on living life to the full.