NYMC Faculty Publications

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome: A Respiratory Disorder?

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Current Research in Physiology

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Review Article

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Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is a disorder epitomized by the story of the blind men and the elephant. Patients may see primary care internists or pediatricians due to fatigue, be referred to neurologists for "spells", to cardiologists for evaluation of pre-syncope or chest pain, to gastroenterologists for nausea or dyspepsia, and even pulmonologists for dyspnea. Adoption of a more systematic approach to their evaluation and better characterization of patients has led to greater understanding of comorbidities, hypotheses prompting mechanistic investigations, and pharmacologic trials. Recent work has implicated disordered sympathetic nervous system activation in response to central (thoracic) hypovolemia. It is this pathway that leads one zero in on a putative focal point from which many of the clinical manifestations can be explained - specifically the carotid body. Despite heterogeneity in etiopathogenesis of a POTS phenotype, we propose that aberrant activation and response of the carotid body represents one potential common pathway in evolution. To understand this postulate, one must jettison isolationist or reductionist ideas of chemoreceptor and baroreceptor functions of the carotid body or sinus, respectively, and consider their interaction and interdependence both locally and centrally where some of its efferents merge. Doing so enables one to connect the dots and appreciate origins of diverse manifestations of POTS, including dyspnea for which the concept of neuro-mechanical uncoupling is wanting, thereby expanding our construct of this symptom. This perspective expounds our premise that POTS has a prominent respiratory component.