understanding vasovagal syncope and POTS

Since Lyme disease can affect the body’s nervous system, many Lyme warriors have or are at least familiar with, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). Similar to POTS, is Vasovagal Syncope (VVS), also referred to as Neurocardiogenic Syncope. Both are caused by an imbalance in the nervous system that affects the body’s regulation of breathing, heart rate and blood flow.

The autonomic nervous system (the part that automatically controls body functions) is meant to regulate blood flow and pressure to the whole body – for example, when you stand up, gravity pulls blood down towards your feet, so your blood vessels constrict and your heart rate speeds up a bit to keep blood flowing into your brain. For those with POTS, a change in body position, such as from sitting to standing, can result in an increased heart rate and blood pressure drop.

For those with Vasovagal Syncope, the vagus nerve, (one of the longest cranial nerves in the parasympathetic nervous system - aka the “fight or flight” system) becomes overstimulated which causes a decrease in both heart rate and blood pressure.

While this might sound like a momentary inconvenience when you stand or sit down, trust me – the inability for your body to automatically regulate blood flow is a BIG problem. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, blood vessels dilate, the heart rate slows and oxygen is deprived from the brain, causing some people to loose consciousness. Other symptoms may include nausea, headaches, extreme dizziness, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, vision changes and poor memory.

Doctors don’t know what exactly causes POTS or Vasovagal Syncope; however, there are attempts at treatment that can include increased fluid intake, compression stockings (these are the worst), medications and lifestyle changes. However, I think that for the majority of people who have either of these disorders, these treatment options rarely eliminate all symptoms of syncope, but I’ll keep you posted on my progress!