There is very little literature about the effects of POTS on pregnancy. There is far more studies related to the effects of pregnancy on POTS patients and their symptoms. However, to put anxious minds at ease, there has been no significant change in maternal or fetal related complications and 60% of patients remained stable or improved during pregnancy (Blitshteyn et al., 2012).
According to current research 2/3 of women experience improvement of symptoms in the second and third trimester and 1/3 of women develop worsening symptoms. There does not appear to be a difference between first-time pregnancies versus multiple pregnancies and there is no evidence of adverse events in pregnant women with POTS. POTS does not pose an increased risk for pregnancy or birth. (Kanjwal et al.,2009)
Physiological changes in pregnancy
In the first trimester, there is a 50% increase in blood volume to supply the vascular system of the uterus, an increase in cardiac output and peripheral vasodilation. There is a decreased sensitivity to vasoconstrictors such as angiotensin and norepinephrine and an increased production of vasodilators like nitric oxide and prostacyclin. (Goodman et al., 1982; Gant et al., 1980) This can increase the acute symptoms of POTS in the first trimester, such as tachycardia, lightheadedness, fatigue and even syncope as well as other symptoms of POTS. Still, 60% of patients remained stable or reported improved symptoms during pregnancy (Blitshteyn et. al., 2012)
Treatment of POTS in pregnancy
The treatment of POTS in pregnancy is highly individualized and based on symptom relief. It is recommended that general guidelines for POTS treatment be used during pregnancy. (Sheldon et al., 2015)
Usual first-line treatments are:
- Exercise - 25 to 30 minutes of mild exercises per week, avoiding upright posture (swimming or recumbent bike are recommended and better tolerated) and exercises performed lying on the left side to minimize compression of the vena cava.
- Oral hydration of 2 l of water daily as well as increased salt intake of 3 - 5 gm sodium per day except if hypertension is present or pregnancy is high risk for hypertension.
- Compression garments can be helpful and are covered by most insurance plans with a prescription. There are also compression stockings specifically designed for use during pregnancy.
Medications during pregnancy
Whenever possible patients have weaned off medications during pregnancy. For patients with debilitating POTS symptoms, particularly patients with recurring syncope, medications can be safely prescribed. (Ruzieh, Grubb, December 2018)
Some of the more commonly prescribed are ( not limited to )
- Midodrine - trialed in pregnant patients with POTS with no adverse maternal or fetal outcome (Kanjwal et al., 2009: Glatter et al., 2005)
- Beta Blockers - such as Propanolol were found to be effective on lessening symptoms without adverse reactions (Raj et al., 2009)
- Fludrocortisone - used by Kanjwal et al., 2009 in a pregnant patient with POTS with no significant adverse effects.
- In patients who are not fully helped with the above solutions, Duloxetine and Venlafaxine can be added with particular benefit to patients who suffer from symptoms of fatigue and anxiety.
- Pyridostigmine may improve tachycardia in POTS patients (Raj et al., 2005; Kanjwal et al., 2011). However, Pyridostigmine also increases bowel motility. Therefore, although it does not have adverse reactions specific to pregnancy, it is not tolerated in many patients due to multiple GI side effects (Kanjwal et al., 2011)
- IV fluids - infusing 1 L of normal saline over 1-2 hours weekly may be helpful in refractory cases. It can then be increased or decreased on an individual basis as needed. If IV Fluids are used, it is recommended that it be done on an outpatient basis and to minimize the risk of infections and thrombosis, the use of central lines and infusion ports should be avoided. (Ruzieh, Grubb, December 2018)
- Bedrest - partial bedrest may be recommended in patients with recurring syncope or falls.
There are no special considerations for vaginal delivery vs C-section. Both can be carried out successfully without complications. The choice for what is used should be made solely based on obstetrics. (Glatter et al., 2005; Powless et al., 2010; Blitshteyn et al., 2012; Lide, Haeri 2015) No evidence was found to favor one method or type of anesthesia used - regional vs general vs none. Also, an epidural injection was found to be safe and didn’t trigger POTS symptoms. The birth method or anesthesia used should not be influenced by a POTS diagnosis. It should be solely based on Obstetrician’s recommendations. (Corbett et al., 2006)
Some women experience worsening of symptoms and others find rapid improvement of symptoms after delivery but the majority of women remain stable. Breastfeeding is safe and encouraged, however, caution should be taken if medications are being used to treat POTS symptoms during pregnancy and potentially transfer to breast milk. (Bernal et al., 2016)
According to current research, there is no long term impact of pregnancy on POTS and POTS does not pose an increased risk for pregnancy or birth. HUTT testing is safe during pregnancy.
It is recommended that patients with debilitating POTS symptoms consult with a high-risk obstetrician, and any obstetrician treating a POTS patient should take the time to learn about POTS and dysautonomia in general as well as the medications used to treat it.
Special note for POTS patients with EDS: Pregnant women living with EDS and POTS are at a higher risk for maternal and fetal complications. Therefore these patients require more monitoring and closer follow up (Jones, Ng 208; Sorokin et al., 1994)
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Ruzieh Mohammed, Grubb Blair P., Overview of the management of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome in pregnant patients, Autonomic Neuroscience, Vol 215, Full Text https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1566070217303442
Edited by Pistol