Jan 3, 2011

POTS in Pop Culture

POTS and other forms of dysautonomia are appearing more and more in pop culture and other places you wouldn't expect to see them.

There was an episode of the popular TV medical drama, House, that involved POTS caused by Chairi malformation of the brain.  It originally aired on 5/3/2010, but is no longer available for viewing on the internet.  Many POTS and Chiari patients didn't think it accurately portrayed the symptoms.

There was an episode of Mystery Diagnosis on the Discovery Channel (Season 1, Episode 5: Blood & Fire) dealing with Chiari malformation, which is can cause POTS, although not all POTS patients have Chiari malformation:  http://www.chiaritvspecial.com/

There was also an episode of Mystery Diagnosis dealing with Orthostatic Intolerance, a form of dysautonomia that is essentially the same as POTS.  You can view that episode on YouTube in two parts:
Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN3PB6N6oGY&feature=related
Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I40-r3RpFjs&feature=related

Those of you with young children at home surely have heard of The Wiggles, a musical cartoon/children's TV character group.  In addition to their TV show and cartoon show, the Wiggles go on tour and perform to huge stadiums of screaming children around the world.  Each Wiggle character is a different color, and the yellow Wiggle, Greg Page, who is the drummer in the band, had to retire from the Wiggles due to dysautonomia a few years ago.  Greg has made a website about his struggle with dysautonomia and orthostatic intolerance:  http://www.gregpage.com/oiandd.html
The Wiggles put out a press release when Greg retired that explains some of the symptoms he was having:  http://www.thewiggles.com.au/us/mediacentre/news/31

President John F. Kennedy, his sister Eunice and many other famous people had/have Addison's Disease, which has many of the same symptoms as POTS.  Many people with POTS have some form of Addison's Disease, including your truly.  Classical Addison's Disease is when your adrenal glands stop working properly and you become dangerously deficient in cortisol and aldosterone, although the level of deficiency of each hormone can vary in non-classical Addison's.  Your adrenal glands produce many different hormones that are essential for life, including cortisol and aldosterone.  I have almost no aldosterone and my cortisol is almost always low or low normal.  I am taking synthetic replacement hormones to address the lack of aldosterone and I am tracking my cortisol carefully to see if it continues to decline, because sometimes Addison's Disease affects one hormone first, then the other.

Actress Brittany Murphy died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 32.  While the Coroner's report says her cause of death was due to community acquired pneumonia and anemia, her brother suspects that dysautonomia played a role in her death, as he suffers from it and several other members of Brittany's family suffered from it.  He made a video about this which you can find on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7Hs3gNqLAQ

As a side note, early in my illness an Infectious Disease Specialist diagnosed me as having an active infection of Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria, which is a form of community acquired pneumonia.  I suspect that this is what triggered my POTS, but I am not certain.  I'll have a whole blog post about Mycoplasma and POTS coming soon.

NASA researchers have done extensive research on orthostatic intolerance an POTS, since about 70% astronauts returning from extended space flight suffer from POTS like symptoms, due to the effects of a zero-gravity environment on the body.  In zero gravity, you develop low blood volume because your body doesn't need as much blood in space, your heart shrinks because it doesn't need to work as hard when you are in space, and you also lose substantial calcium and bone mass because you do not need very strong bones in space.  Astronauts on long missions tends to develop these problems and they very often get kidney stones from all the calcium loss.  Imagine being in top physical condition when you launch, and feeling the dreadful symptoms of POTS when you return back to Earth a few weeks later.  If they are looking for POTS patients to go up into space to see if it 'normalizes' us, sign me up!  Here's an article from the NASA website: http://spaceresearch.nasa.gov/research_projects/bioastronautics_03-2002_lite.html

Some people have suggested renaming POTS "Spaceman's Disease" or "Astronaut's Disease" to help raise awareness of the illness.  Personally, I think that's a great idea because it sounds way more interesting that "POTS", which may make ignorant people think you're sick because you've been smoking marijuana.

Dr. Benjamin Levine at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine has done some research indicating that many POTS patients have hearts that are slightly smaller than normal, so he referred to POTS as the Grinch Syndrome, a reference to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas character whose heart was "two sizes to small."  Many in the POTS online community were upset by this characterization, but I think it was just Dr. Levine's way of trying to explain a very complicated disorder in terms almost anyone can understand.  Even a 5 year old who has seen that movie knows that the Grinch's heart is too small.

That's all I've found so far, but if you find any other references to POTS, Orthostatic Intolerance or other dysautonomias in pop culture, please feel free to e-mail me or post it here.