People may have a higher chance of developing a debilitating heart condition after a COVID-19 infection, a new study published Monday, Dec. 12, found.
The condition, POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), is a nervous system disorder that causes a person’s heart to rapidly race in the 10 minutes after standing up, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is accompanied by symptoms that are known to get worse, including lightheadedness and fainting, and has been considered a potential long COVID condition, research noted.
the study also found that getting vaccinated against the coronavirus is linked to a greater chance of developing POTS but to a “lesser extent,” according to a news release on the work, which involved researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Still, “risks remain higher after infection than after vaccination,” the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Cardiovascular Research said.
The findings come as the US approaches 100 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data as of Dec. 14 shows.
Though a person’s chances of developing POTS were found to be higher three months after getting vaccinated, they were more than five times higher after a COVID-19 infection than vaccination, according to the study.
Researchers analyzed 284,592 vaccinated individuals and 12,460 people who had had COVID-19 from 2020 to 2022. Participants were patients of the Cedars-Sinai Health System.
“The main message here is that while we see a potential link between COVID-19 vaccination and POTS, preventing COVID-19 through vaccination is still the best way to reduce your risk of developing POTS,” lead study author Dr. Alan C. Kwan said in a statement.
This possible link is “relatively slim,” Kwan added.
Previously, POTS has been known to develop after a viral illness, a traumatic event, during pregnancy or afterwards, and alongside another underlying condition such as diabetes or cancer, according to the UK National Health Service.
More on the study and POTS
Getting diagnosed with POTS can be tough as the symptoms span different organ systems, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Other symptoms include extreme fatigue, brain fog, headaches, nausea and vomiting, and shakiness.
“In an unexpected but important way, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a great deal of awareness to POTS—both to patients and providers,” Dr. Peng-Sheng Chen, another study author and POTS expert, said in a statement.
Of the 12,460 patients known to be infected with COVID-19, those who received a POTS-associated diagnosis later were considered slightly older, according to the study.
Of the 284,592 vaccinated people studied, 62% received Pfizer’s vaccine, 31% received Moderna’s shot, 6.9% received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and less than 1% of patients received other vaccines including AstraZeneca, Novovax and Sinovac, according to the study.
For this group, POTS ranked among the top five conditions seen affecting these individuals after they were vaccinated, the researchers found. Other conditions included myocarditis, dysautonomia, mast cell activation syndrome and urinary tract infection, the study found.
Study authors emphasized that their findings don’t mean that COVID-19 vaccination causes POTS. They call for further investigation given their research was observational.
New POTS diagnoses following vaccination have been reported in medical literature before, including in connection with Gardasil’s human papillomavirus vaccine, according to a paper published in Nature Cardiovascular Research describing the study.
“We recognize as clinicians that side effects from vaccines can vary in type and severity, even if still uncommon overall,” Kwan said. “We hope that clearer data and improved understanding will eventually enhance medical trust and quality of care as well as communications around vaccines.”
One study limitation was the “generalizability” of the findings because they are limited to Cedars-Sinai Health System patients.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 500,000 to 3 million people were known to have POTS in the US, according to the paper on the study.
“Avoiding triggers” such as standing for a long time, being exposed to hot and cold temperatures, and drinking alcohol can help people manage POTS, Chen said.
There is no cure for POTS, according to Mayo Clinic.
This story was originally published December 14, 2022 11:15 AM.
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