POTS spiked during COVID-19, and patients could wait years to see a specialist

A recently released report highlighted the ways in which the U.S. is failing to adequately address heart health — and as it did with many things, the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated it.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is a severe condition that causes accelerated heart rate and fatigue. Its effects can alter everyday life for some of those who develop it, and patients often end up on long waiting lists for treatment, The Washington Post reported Feb. 27. 

The complications have increased as "the number of people with POTS has at least doubled since the start of the pandemic, while the number of specialists has remained the same," according to the outlet. 

Why the sharp increase? One study suggests this is because "there has been a sharp rise in the incidence of POTS since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because of SARS-CoV-2 being an acute viral infectious trigger."

Long COVID-19's role in possibly contributing to increased cases of POTS is something researchers have been paying close attention to. A study just published in December 2022 found that upon examining patients who developed long COVID-19, 39 percent of women met the criteria to be diagnosed with POTS, while only 7 percent of men did. 

One of the main barriers patients diagnosed with POTS also face is lack of knowledge and expertise on the condition across the medical community. According to the Post, the condition is often mistakenly diagnosed as anxiety in many cases. Other times, various treatment options such as wearing compression clothing and increasing salt intake simply don't help, so patients turn to alternative options like acupuncture. 

"One study of more than 4,800 POTS patients found that most didn't get diagnosed until a year or more after first seeing a doctor, and the average diagnostic delay was nearly five years," the Post reported.

Another remaining unknown factor about the condition is exactly how many individuals who had COVID-19 will develop it — though one study suggests it could be anywhere between 2 and 14 percent. 

Ultimately, there is still much for clinicians to understand about patients who develop post-COVID-19 POTS. Researchers say to improve patient outcomes going forward, emphasis should be placed on "more staffing and testing capacity, increased communication between autonomic specialists and other providers to improve awareness and knowledge of post-COVID-19 POTS, and multidisciplinary treatment teams."


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