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What is syncope?

Syncope is also called fainting or passing out. Syncope is a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness, followed by a fall from a standing or sitting position.

What causes syncope?

Syncope is caused by a decrease in blood flow to the brain. When blood flow to the brain decreases, oxygen to the brain also decreases. Any of the following conditions may cause syncope:

  • Heart problems: Heart diseases as well as certain blood pressure or heart medicines may cause fainting.

  • Cerebrovascular problems: Problems with the blood vessels of the brain may cause syncope.

  • Body position changes: Position changes include moving from a lying position to a sitting or standing position. This can cause a rapid drop in your blood pressure, which may lead to syncope. .

  • Reflexive reaction: This is when your nervous system responds to something and your body reacts by fainting. It can happen when you strain hard during bowel movements or urination. It can also happen during forceful coughing or sneezing, or when you face a stressful or fearful situation. This is also called vasovagal syncope.

What are the signs and symptoms of syncope?

  • Cold, clammy, and sweaty skin

  • Fast breathing and a racing, pounding heartbeat

  • Feeling more tired than usual

  • Feeling sick to your stomach

  • Headache, blurred vision, or double vision

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

  • Tingling sensation or numbness

How is syncope diagnosed?

Your caregiver will do a physical exam. He will ask if you have other medical conditions. He may order the following tests to find out what is causing your symptoms:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Telemetry is continuous monitoring of your heart rhythm. Sticky pads placed on your skin connect to an EKG machine that records your heart rhythm.

  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure and function of your heart.

  • A stress test may show the changes that take place in your heart while it is under stress. Stress may be placed on your heart with exercise or medicine. Ask for more information about this test.

  • Tilt table test: If you have problems with fainting, you may need a tilt table test. This test checks to see what happens to your heart and your blood pressure when you change positions.

How is syncope treated?

Recovery is instant and complete, even without treatment. You may need the following treatments to prevent syncope from happening again:

  • Medicines: There is no special medicine used to treat syncope. However, you may need to use medicines to help your heart pump strongly and regularly. Medicines to help keep fluid and salt inside your body, such as steroids, may also be given.

  • Tilt training: This is training yourself to stand for 10 to 30 minutes each day against a wall. This helps your body decrease the effects of posture changes and reduces the number of fainting spells.

  • Increase liquids and salt: You may need to drink more liquids to prevent dehydration. You may need to increase your salt intake to keep your blood pressure from dropping too low and causing syncope. Ask your caregiver for more information.

What can I do to prevent syncope?

  • If you feel faint or dizzy, sit or lie down right away. Put your feet up higher than your head. This will get the blood flowing back to your heart and brain.

  • Sudden movements may cause a fainting spell. Move slowly and let yourself get used to one position before you move to another position. This is very important when you change from a lying or sitting position to a standing position.

  • Take some deep breaths before you stand up from a lying position.

  • If you must sit or stand in one position for a long time, move your legs often. Do not lock your knees or cross your legs.

  • Avoid straining if you are constipated. Straining to have a bowel movement may cause you to faint. Walking is the best way to get your bowels moving. Eat foods high in fiber to make it easier to have a bowel movement. Good examples are high-fiber cereals, beans, vegetables, and whole-grain breads. Prune juice may help make bowel movements softer.

  • Do not drive a car or use heavy machinery if you feel faint.

  • Do not exercise outside during the heat of the day.

  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace if you have a heart problem that causes fainting spells.

What are the risks of syncope?

Syncope may be a sign that you have other health problems. Syncope caused by heart and brain problems is often serious and may be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have another fainting spell.

  • You have a headache, fast heartbeat, or feel too dizzy to stand up.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You are bleeding because you accidently hit your head after fainting.

  • You suddenly have double vision, difficulty speaking, numbness, and cannot move your arms or legs.

  • You have chest pain and trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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