If you have ever seen someone faint, you will know it can be a scary experience, especially as often it can happen out of the blue for no apparent reason, leading to a lot of anxiety for those around. So what is it that causes people to faint? Well there is actually a medical name for the condition and it is known as Vasovagal Syncope. It may seem like a fancy term, but if we break “Vasovagal Syncope” down, it makes a lot more sense to the average person. Vaso refers to blood vessels, Vagal to the nerve that contributes to heart rate and Syncope simply means to lose consciousness. So quite simply ‘Vasovagal Syncope’ means to faint because of a malfunction of the cardiovascular system.
Who Suffers From Vasovagal Syncope?
Vasovagal Syncope is the commonest cause of fainting in the world, and can happen to anyone. Most people who suffer from Vasovagal Syncope have a perfectly normal heart. That is not to say however that all faints in apparently healthy people should be attributed to VASOVAGAL SYNCOPE, and it is important that other causes are ruled out initially. Vasovagal Syncope is very common in younger people but can affect people of all ages.
What are the Symptoms of Vasovagal Syncope?
Although it seems that people faint for no reason, there are often specific triggers that cause vasovagal syncope. It may be as simple as standing for a long time in a hot environment, or the sight or sensation of a needle (taking or giving blood). It is also not uncommon for emotional stress to trigger Vasovagal Syncope, but there are also occasions where there still apparently seems to be no cause.
Often in vasovagal syncope, the sufferer will experience prodromal (warning) symptoms such as nausea (feeling sick), sweating, light-headedness or going pale. These symptoms correlate with increased vagal tone (increased signal in the vagus nerve supplying the heart), which acts to momentarily slow the heart and/or dilate (widen) the blood vessels in the body, leading to a reduction in blood flow to the brain (cerebral perfusion). This in turn leads to a loss of consciousness as the brain becomes starved of oxygen.
On suffering vasovagal syncope, the subject will then often fall to the floor. This then allows blood to reach the brain again as the effect of gravity is negated and results in a rapid regaining of consciousness. Rapid recovery is one of the hallmark features of Vasovagal Syncope can help distinguish it from some more sinister causes.
So What Should I Do If Someone Has Vasovagal Syncope?
The treatment is really simple and can be administered by anyone. Simply lie the patient down in a supine position (on their back) and elevate their legs. This helps to maximize blood flow to the brain and enhance recovery times. This treatment is assuming the cause is simple vasovagal syncope, and is not applicable if the person is having another problem such as a seizure.
Once the person is feeling better they should be taken for medical attention, especially if it is the first episode, to ensure that the cause was simply vasovagal syncope.
What Else Could Be Causing Fainting Episodes?
It is important to know that it is not always Vasovagal Syncope causing fainting. Possible other causes include cardiac arrhythmias like Afib with RVR or inappropriate sinus tachycardia (IST), seizures, strokes, heart valve disorders and several others. For those reasons, a doctor should always be consulted in the event of syncope as these conditions can be life-threatening if not treated.
Are Any Medical Treatments Available For Vasovagal Syncope?
In general the only treatment advised for people suffering from vasovagal syncope is to avoid triggering factors. This in itself is usually enough and people will as a result suffer from Vasovagal Syncope infrequently. In some cases however people may suffer from recurrent Vasovagal Syncope, and in this case further investigations may be required. Treatments such as pacemaker insertion are a possibility, but are not widely practiced.
The most important treatment for anyone suffering from vasovagal syncope is to be educated on his or her condition. This provides relief from anxiety and worries and allows them to prevent further episodes as well as deal with them better when they do occur
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