SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Exercise is a cornerstone of treating postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, according to Dr. Deborah Tepper.
“Exercise training is really the hot new way to treat this disorder. It’s been found to be very effective,” she said at a symposium sponsored by the American Headache Society.
Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is an autonomic disorder that causes symptoms resembling panic attacks, said Dr. Tepper, who is an internist at the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Center for Pain. Patients may report syncope, dizziness, palpitations, rapid or irregular breathing, fatigue, and chest pain, she said. But to be diagnosed with POTS, they must have an increase of at least 30 beats per minute within 10 minutes of standing or with the 60-degree tilt table test. Patients aged 12-19 years must have an increase in heart rate of at least 40 beats per minute. Blood pressure may drop or stay the same, but will not fall to the extent seen in orthostatic hypotension (that is, a systolic drop of 20 mm Hg or a diastolic fall of at least 10 mm Hg), Dr. Tepper noted.
Deconditioning, chronic fatigue, anxiety, dehydration, and various medications increase the frequency and severity of POTS-related symptoms, Dr. Tepper said. Patients sometimes severely restrict exercise in an effort to control symptoms, but lying on the couch or going to bed “is the worst thing you can do with POTS,” she said. Instead, patients should start a graded exercise program by swimming or exercising in recumbent or seated positions. Exercise training increases the aldosterone-to-renin ratio, can reduce migraine, improves overall health and stamina, supports independent functioning, and can help restore the sleep-wake cycle.
Increasing salt and fluid intake and wearing compression socks also can improve symptoms – often to the extent that patients will not need new medications. But this conservative approach is inadequate in patients with risky occupations and is less effective when patients have frequent episodes of syncope, Dr. Tepper said.
“Beta-blockers remain an option if salts, fluids, and patient education are not enough,” she added.
Beta-blockers inhibit epinephrine release and therefore can improve the migraine and anxiety symptoms that can occur in patients with POTS, although they should not be used in patients with asthma, Dr. Tepper emphasized.
Medications such as fludrocortisone and midodrine should be reserved for patients with recurrent or resistant symptoms, according to Dr. Tepper. “Midodrine can be helpful in some people, although the evidence overall rates it as low to moderate,” she said. Midodrine is a direct vasoconstrictor and alpha-adrenergic agonist that increases vasomotor tone, but also can exacerbate headaches and may cause supine hypertension, urinary retention, and insomnia, she noted. Fludrocortisone increases plasma volume, but worsens migraine, increases fluid retention, and cannot be used in diabetic patients, she said.
Clinicians should refer patients for a cardiology evaluation if they do not improve or have risk factors such as a history of cardiac disease or a family history of sudden cardiac death, chest pain, a QRS interval of more than 120 ms, a corrected QT interval of more than 450 ms or less than 300 ms, or syncope with no warning or while lying down, Dr. Tepper said. She declared no conflicts of interest.