Design: An inductive qualitative approach was used to explore the processes by which patients formulate explanations and management of symptoms within the search for a diagnostic label and to investigate illness identity in the context of existing diagnoses or multimorbidity.
Methods: Participants (n=29) for this nested qualitative study were recruited from a larger longitudinal study of people who had been newly referred to a specialist POTS service. Semi-structured interviews were conducted via video call. Three researchers coded and analysed data using Reflexive Thematic Analysis and elements of Grounded Theory.
Results: The analysis resulted in three overarching themes: ‘Seeking physiological coherence and validation’, ‘Individual persistence’, and ‘Navigating the cumulative burden’. ‘Accessibility and disparities of health care’ was noted as a contextual factor. Receiving a POTS diagnosis was regarded by participants as providing legitimacy and increased access to treatment. Overall, delays in the diagnostic journey and the lack of a clear diagnosis impacted negatively on patients through increased uncertainty and a lack of clear guidance on how to manage symptoms. Findings also suggested there were great complexities in assigning symptoms to labels in the context of multimorbidity.
Conclusions: Participants' stories highlighted the urgent need for better recognition of POTS so that the self-regulatory process can be initiated from the early stages of symptom detection.
- diagnostic journey, illness representations, postural tachycardia syndrome, reflexive thematic analysis, self-management