Have you or every been around someone who has lost consciousness? It can be very scary - for anyone around, because there are a few seconds there with a lot of confusion as they try to assess what is going on, and for the person who has passed out, as they awake and are unsure as to what just happened.
Well, you can guess that there is a better medical term than "passing out", and you'd be correct. A temporary loss of consciousness is referred to as syncope. And it happens when there is a sudden lapse of blood flow to the brain. Your brain doesn't get the blood it needs, and - WHAP! - you've fallen on the floor.
Syncope can happen to anyone. A late 90s study showed that as many as 20% of people can experience syncope. Children, young adults, middle age, and older generations. Men or women (women are slightly more likely), it can happen.
There can be several causes of syncope:
1) Vasovagal - syncope is triggered by an 'event'. This usually refers to a trauma, pain, emotional stress, or seeing something disturbing (like when people pass out if they see blood). You've seen those videos of groomsmen falling over during wedding ceremonies because they are locking their knees? That's a vasovagal cause of syncope.
2) Dehydration can cause syncope. This can sometimes be a dangerous one - you ever get to the point when you are working outside or exercising in the heat, and you start seeing those dots floating around? You're dehydrated, and you've gotten too hot. If you don't stop, cool off, and drink a good bit of water and keep going, you're very likely to pass out.
3) Some medications can raise the likelihood of syncope. High blood pressure medicines that dilate blood vessels or affect the rate the heart pumps blood - if they limit blood flow too much, there's that possibility where not enough will get to the brain every once in awhile.
4) An irregular heartbeat can cause syncope. If it doesn't beat often enough, or maybe beats fast but weakly. Heart block, supraventricular tachycardias, ventricular tachycardias are examples of an irregular heartbeat.
Warning signs of syncope:
There can be a few symptoms prior to a spell of syncope. And remember what's going on here - your brain isn't getting enough blood, so it's struggling. The brain is the command center of your body, and when it struggles, things start to go on the fritz. Blurred vision, lightheadedness, or confusion can occur. You can start sweating or start feeling warm, or you can get funny tastes in your mouth. Your legs can start to feel heavy, or you can experience nausea.
Syncope cases can necessitate a fairly rapid assessment of the patients airway, breathing, circulation, and neurological status. We try to figure out which (or combination) of these aren't in order, and then start from there.
Because the causes of syncope are so widespread, it can be difficult to diagnose. We have to figure out if it's heart disease - so people who experience syncope will likely have a EKG, an echocardiogram, a stress test, or use heart monitors.
Information helps us, too. Was anyone around you when you fainted? What did they see, and were you acting weird/different? Sometimes this can give us clue as to what direction to pursue.
If we are suspicious beyond the heart tests, we may scan brain by CT or an MRI.
Depending on what we find, we'll figure out if a treatment is needed.
Treatment of syncope:
If it's a heart issue, then the appropriate actions will be taken. Could be a pacemaker, an adjustment to medications, or a number of treatments.
In cases of dehydration or malnutrition, IVs could be used to get sugar levels where they need to be or pump in electrolytes to rehydrate your body.
Depending on how the patient responds, the physician may require the patient to remain for extended monitoring. It's extremely important to follow your doctor's instructions here.
If you or anyone you know has experienced an episode like this before, but you didn't go see a doctor - GO SEE ONE NOW. Tell them about what happened, or bring a friend that was around when the episode occurred to help explain. Your doctor needs to know these things about you.
Fainting isn't just something to discard as no big deal. For a moment, your brain didn't get what it needed to operate, and that's not good. Make sure you see your doctor so they can see if any damage was done.
- Dr. William Fonbah