Feb. 4, 2021

UCalgary research team proves efficacy of treatment for individuals with POTS

Findings relevant for clinicians

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is a chronic blood flow condition that impacts about 370,000 Canadians, causing the heart rates of patients to rise at least 30 beats per minute when standing.

With symptoms like rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and fainting, POTS can significantly impact quality of life for individuals—making everyday tasks difficult and even confining individuals to their beds, as reclining eases symptoms.  

A research team at the University of Calgary, led by Dr. Satish Raj, MD, is looking for ways to relieve symptoms for individuals with POTS, more than 90 per cent of whom are young women in their childbearing years.

“Something as simple as grocery shopping can be unmanageable for these patients,” says Raj, a cardiologist and researcher with expertise in POTS at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).  

Easing the burden of symptoms is a focus for Raj’s team, especially for doctoral candidate Kate Bourne, the first-author of a study, recently published in the Journal Of The American College of Cardiology (JACC), that looked at using compression garments to help manage POTS symptoms.

According to Bourne, there are no specific drugs proven to be widely effective to treat POTS, but doctors frequently prescribe compression garments to help manage symptoms. The purpose behind Bourne’s study was to rigorously examine whether compression garments are beneficial, and she was excited to find real evidence to support the treatment.

“The idea with compression is that it targets the blood pooling due to gravity, but we didn’t previously have scientific evidence to prove that it reduces the increases in heart rate and that it relieves symptoms,” says Bourne. “We now know they can make a difference.”

The study involved monitoring the heart rates of 30 POTS patients during compression with a special garment that was like wearing compression socks, compression shorts and waist-high compression tights. They also monitored patients with no compression. These four tests were performed on a tilt table, which raises individuals from a lying position to standing, a movement that usually causes the heart rate of POTS patients to spike.

The study found that compressing either the abdominal or entire lower body kept the heart rates of the patients from surging as much.

It was an exciting finding for Bourne, because of its clinical relevance and non-pharmacological approach. It is also a relatively cost-effective approach.

“It is exciting to know that something I am doing could help others right away,” she says.  

Raj agrees, saying, “this knowledge could be applied in clinic this week.”

Bourne is continuing her work in this area with a study to better understand the experiences of POTS patients with compression garments. She is also working on a study in which POTS patients will be asked to wear their own compression garments for up to four days, with remote monitoring of their heart rate and symptoms.

Raj is a member of the Dept. of Cardiac Sciences at the CSM and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. Bourne is an MD/PhD student in the Leaders in Medicine program at the CSM.


Kate Bourne

Kate Bourne, a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr, Satish Raj, MD, was instrumental in this study, showing the value of compression garments in POTS patients.