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Fainting
(Syncope)

Definition:
Fainting is the sudden loss of consciousness.

Causes:
In general, fainting is caused by decreased blood flow to the brain.

This can occur due to:

  • Vasovagal spells (most common cause) – simple fainting that can occur:
    • During medical procedures
    • During times of high stress, trauma, or fright
    • After standing still for a long period of time
  • Low blood pressure, especially when standing (called orthostatic hypotension)
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia due to blood loss
  • Side effect of a medication
  • Seizure
  • Stroke or transient ischemic attack
  • Too rapid or too slow heart rhythm
  • Organic heart problems such as:
    • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
    • pulmonary stenosis
    • constrictive pericarditis
Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
  • Heart disease, especially congestive heart failure or abnormal rhythms
  • Blood loss
  • Medications, including:
    • Blood pressure medications
    • Drugs that enlarge blood vessels
    • Antidepressants
    • Drugs that regulate the heart's rhythm
    • Water pills (diuretics)
Symptoms:
Symptoms include:
  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • Inability to remain standing or sitting
  • Consciousness regained without any need for intervention
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness before losing consciousness
Diagnosis:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include (in order of importance):

Blood Tests – to look for anemia, hypoglycemia, low potassium, and low magnesium

Electrocardiogram (EKG) – a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle

Holter Monitoring – a mobile EKG test that is performed over 24 hours, while you go about your usual daily activities

Head CT Scan – a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the brain

MRI Scan of the Brain – a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the brain

Echocardiogram – a test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the size, shape, and motion of the heart

Cardiac Catheterization –a tube-like instrument inserted into the heart through a vein or artery (usually in the arm or leg) to detect problems with the heart and its blood supply

Electroencephalogram (EEG) – a test that records the brain's activity by measuring electrical currents through the brain

Treatment:
Treatment will depend on the underlying condition that has caused fainting. For example:
  • Abnormal heart rhythms can be treated with medications or by implanting a pacemaker.
  • If a medication is causing syncope, it may need to be changed or discontinued.
  • Anemia or other blood abnormalities should be treated.
Prevention:
If you feel any warning signs, such as dizziness or lightheadedness, sit or lie down immediately so that you don't get hurt falling during a fainting spell.

If you are prone to fainting:

  • Get up slowly and carefully from lying down. Start by sitting up. Don't ever jump to a standing position.
  • Ask your doctor if you should be on a high-salt diet.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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