If you've felt fatigued or have been feeling dizzy for a while after recovering from COVID, then you may be afflicted with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, also known as POTS. The number of people afflicted by the disease in the United States of America has doubled since 2019, from three million to at least 6 million Americans.
Here's everything you should know about the rare disease.
What is POTS?
According to National Geographic, POTS is a "type of dysautonomia characterised by an abnormal rise in heart rate after changing position, like sitting to standing," with symptoms of POTS including "dizziness, fatigue, brain fog, and gastrointestinal disturbances." Dysautonomia is a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, which is in charge of involuntary functions in the body, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
POTS can be triggered by a variety of health conditions such as pregnancy, surgery, and/or a viral illness, like COVID-19- which is a long COVID-19 symptom. According to National Geographic, "a subset of these POTS patients also has a condition called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), which is characterized by post-exertional malaise (PEM)—a situation in which symptoms worsen after exercise."
Is Exercise The Cure?
The commonly prescribed cure for dysautonomia is exercise. Many scientific studies show that exercise can reduce symptoms of POTS. The National Library of Medicine published a paper which stated that "cardiac remodelling and blood volume expansion associated with exercise training increase physical fitness and improve exercise performance in these patients."
But in a recent article by the National Geographic magazine, Oonagh Cousins, a member of the UK's rowing team, testified that after a full year of training, her dysautonomia flared up, going from mild to severe.
So, What Can We Do?
Studies are increasingly beginning to show that simply exercise will not solve POTS and its symptoms in the people affected by the disease. According to National Geographic, "Some patients have found POTS exercise programs to be useful, but only if they progress at a rate that is much slower than suggested and only if they add in medication."
The field of research about the disease is still evolving, and POTS patients (many of whom are long-term COVID patients) have to learn the hard way that the limits to their physical exertion have drastically changed with the disease. Speaking on her POTS relapse and recovery, Cousins said “I just want to be able to find a way to have a happy, healthy relationship with exercise, that makes me feel good.”
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