Although most people are thinking pink for breast cancer awareness, I also make noise for turquoise! Not just because the two are a delightful color combination, but also because October is Dysautonomia Awareness Month. Dysauto-what, you ask? Dis-auto-no-me-uh. Which means, quite literally, a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.
Why is this so important? Our autonomic nervous systems are responsible for regulating a host of important bodily functions like blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, digestion and even respiration. Basically, the autonomic nervous system is your body’s master control center and when it is out of whack, your body can’t adequately maintain homeostasis. There are many different types of dysautonomia but one of the most common is POTS or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which, like breast cancer, primarily affects women.
Typically striking in adolescence or early adulthood, POTS symptoms can range from annoying to completely debilitating. Many previously healthy young women become bedridden nearly overnight. As terrifying as that is, what’s more terrifying is that most family doctors haven’t even heard of this condition let alone know how to diagnose or treat it properly. Because blood work of POTS patients will often be normal, it is difficult for doctors to determine the exact origin of the symptoms, especially if they aren’t familiar with dysautonomia.
Too many young women are misdiagnosed as having extreme stress, anxiety or other psychological problems although they actually have a very serious physiological problem that requires specialized medical treatment. Some common symptoms include tachycardia (a racing heart), palpitations, erratic blood pressure, sweating, dizziness and lightheadedness. In extreme cases, POTS patients are prone to passing out, which can be very dangerous. Usually it takes a trained cardiologist or a neurologist to recognize POTS and make an accurate diagnosis.
Diagnosis is easily obtained by a tilt-table test. If your doctor does not have access to a tilt table, orthostatic vital signs taken right in your doctor’s office are also sufficient to make a preliminary diagnosis and begin treatment. Mayo Clinic researchers estimate that POTS impacts 1 in 100 teens, so chances are you have known someone afflicted by this difficult illness and sadly, they may have never been diagnosed or worse— they were misdiagnosed.
I hope you will all continue to wear pink and support breast cancer research this October. But I also hope you will take some time to learn about a lesser-known illness that affects over 70 million people worldwide, the majority of whom are women! Visit DysautonomiaInternational.org for more information. And if you are so inclined, make some noise for turquoise with me!