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Syncope is the medical term for fainting or passing out. It is characterized by temporary loss of consciousness due to reduced blood flow in the brain. This usually occurs when the patient suffers from really low blood pressure (hypotension) and the heart is not able to pump the required amount of oxygen to the brain. This condition can last for a few seconds to several seconds.

What are the symptoms associated with syncope?

  • Fainting
  • Nausea
  • Pale skin
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweat
  • Yawning
  • Blurred vision or blackout
  • Weak pulse
  • Dilated pupils
  • Confusion
  • Feeling warm
  • Jerky movement of body

What causes syncope?

There could be diverse reasons behind syncope and accordingly they have been categorized:

  • Vasovagal syncope- Also known as neurocardiogenic syncope or neurally mediated syncope (NMS) is, it occurs due to complication in the heart and well as the nervous system. Since this is the most common type of syncope, it occurs during emotional stress, mental fear, sight of blood and death, exposure to heat or standing for a long time, etc. NMS can also occur while standing, preceded by a sensation of warmth, nausea, dizziness, and visual blurriness.
  • Cardiogenic syncope- Underlying cardiac problems like abnormal heartbeat, chest pain and tightness, low blood pressure, narrowed aorta and thickening of cardiac muscle can cause syncope.
  • Psychogenic syncope- when syncope is triggered explicitly by an abnormal mental state like severe depression, anxiety, hysteria and panic attacks
  • Metabolic syncope- fainting occurs as a side effect of metabolic disorders in the body. It includes low blood sugar, imbalance of excretory gases inside the body and hyperventilation accompanied by panic and anxiety attacks.
  • Syncope can occur during heavy periods and anemia. It could also be side effects of medicines, illicit drugs and alcohol abuse

Diagnosis of syncope

Diagnosis primarily involves examining the medical history and the different episodes of syncope. The conditions preceding syncope, the triggering incidents or circumstances of syncope, the duration and frequency of syncope, the status of the patient, etc. are thoroughly evaluated.

Orthostatic blood pressure of the patient will be measured and a heart examination will be done. Some general diagnostic tests for syncope are electrocardiogram ad blood tests for detecting blood count, sugar level and electrolyte balance.

However, a patient needs to undergo several other cardiac and neurologic tests which absolutely depend on the type of syncope. People suffering from cardiogenic syncope might need to prepare foran echocardiogram, stress test, and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging while those with neurally mediated syncope might need a CT scan and MRI of the brain.

Another common diagnostic test for unexplained reasons behind syncope is- tilt-table test. The patient lies on an examination table that is tilted into different positions to detect fainting.

Treatment of syncope

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Treatment of syncope is completely dependent on the underlying cause and eliminating the triggers.

Managing severe case of cardiogenic syncope involves the use of antiarrhythmic drugs, placement of pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators, treating structural disorders and conducting electrophysiological studies for the heart.

Your doctor shall recommend several therapies and exercises that would improve blood circulation to the brain. Apart from that, vitamin and electrolyte supplements and blood pressure medicines may also be prescribed to manage syncope.

How to prevent and deal with syncope?

  • When you know what triggers syncope in you, avoid those situations and episodes. For example, do not stand in the heat for a long time.
  • If you are experiencing fainting, then lie down immediately for 10-15 minutes with your legs slightly elevated. Be stable and then get up slowly. Call for help immediately if it’s severe
  • Do not drivewhen you are undergoing treatment or halt while driving on experiencing sudden dizziness and vision grayouts
  • Learn counterpressure maneuvers and other kinds of tilting therapies to prevent future episodes of syncope
  • Avoid drinking and addiction to drugs. Increase hydration.
  • Have a nutritious diet that would suffice for vitamin deficiencies

This was some information related to fainting or syncope. In some cases, fainting can be a related to a serious or fatal health condition. Thus, make sure you get yourself examined thoroughly by a medical practioner to be on the safe side.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 28, 2015