Rare heart condition that can require wheelchair use could be a side-effect of COVID-19

WASHINGTON — A rare heart condition that can cause patients to pass out when they stand up and even leave some to use a wheelchair may be one of the long-term consequences of contracting COVID-19.

Researchers from Sweden say the so-called “long COVID” can come with an array of long-lasting side-effects that can take several months to overcome. Previous reports have detailed some of these symptoms including the loss of taste and smell.

Now, the study authors fear postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) could be the latest in a long list of bizarre complications stemming from a coronavirus infection. Months after suffering from COVID, the study finds patients may experience “long haul” symptoms like rapid heart rate, dizziness when standing, and light-headedness — consistent with a POTS diagnosis.

What is POTS?

POTS can cause bouts of dizziness when sitting up or standing due to low blood pressure. Other symptoms include heart palpitations, headaches, fatigue, and blurred vision. It usually affects young and middle-age women and can leave some sufferers needing a wheelchair to ease the strain.

This serious condition can significantly affect a person’s quality of life but is not usually life-threatening, the report notes. What causes POTS in patients usually remains a mystery even after the diagnosis. However, researchers say a viral illness, severe infection, or trauma can trigger a case of POTS and the condition can get better as time passes. There is no cure or standard treatment, but patients can be manage the symptoms with self-care, exercise, proper diet, and certain medications.

Life-altering heart issues months after COVID

In this study, researchers looked at three Swedish patients who were diagnosed with POTS more than three months after possible COVID-19 infections. All three patients experienced COVID-like symptoms last spring, but did not seek medical attention or get tested for the virus.

Later in 2020, all three patients began experiencing symptoms of POTS, including extreme fatigue, headache, nausea, and dizziness. Physicians confirmed the patients had POTS using active standing and head-up tilt tests.

“As reports of COVID-19 patients being impacted by long-term symptoms unrelated to their original diagnosis continue to grow, it’s important to raise awareness of POTS as a possible long-term complication,” Dr. Madeleine Johansson from the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University says in a media release from the American College of Cardiology.

“Much remains unknown about the specific mechanisms responsible for the POTS-like symptoms in post-COVID-19 patients or how long these symptoms will last, but chronic symptoms are expected in a subset of patients based on this initial clinical experience.”

The researchers note that a negative COVID-19 test does not exclude a patient from possibly having the virus and “ought to be interpreted with caution in the context of typical symptoms.”

Doctors should also look to exclude other causes of POTS symptoms including dehydration, other infections, anxiety, and anemia, the researchers conclude.

The clinical case report appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).

SWNS writer Chris Dyer contributed to this report.

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