Idiopathic orthostatic intolerance and postural tachycardia syndromes

Am J Med Sci. 1999 Feb;317(2):88-101. doi: 10.1097/00000441-199902000-00003.


Upright posture imposes a substantial gravitational stress on the body, for which we are able to compensate, in large part because of the autonomic nervous system. Alteration in autonomic function, therefore, may lead to orthostatic intolerance. On one extreme, patients with autonomic failure caused by degenerative loss of autonomic function are severely disabled by orthostatic hypotension and may faint whenever they stand up. Fortunately, such patients are relatively rare. On the other hand, disabling orthostatic intolerance can develop in otherwise normal young people. These patients can be severely impaired by symptoms of fatigue, tachycardia, and shortness of breath when they stand up. The actual incidence of this disorder is unknown, but these patients make up the largest group of patients referred to centers that specialize in autonomic disorders. We will review recent advances made in the understanding of this condition, potential pathophysiological mechanisms that contribute to orthostatic intolerance, therapeutic alternatives currently available for the management of these patients, and areas in which more research is needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Posture*
  • Tachycardia / diagnosis
  • Tachycardia / etiology
  • Tachycardia / physiopathology*