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Fainting, also known as syncope, is a sudden loss of consciousness that occurs when there is decreased blood flow to the brain. Fainting episodes typically only last for a few seconds to a few minutes, and are not usually harmful on their own. However, they may be a sign of underlying medical conditions.
There are multiple variations of syncope that have differing causes and symptoms, although they are usually related to a decrease in blood pressure.
Cardiac syncope is fainting that is due to heart problems, as many different heart conditions can affect the amount of oxygen rich blood that is able to reach the brain.
Carotid sinus syncope is a type of fainting caused when the carotid artery in the neck is pinched. Since this blood vessel is responsible for pumping blood to the brain, when it is constricted there is less ability to carry oxygen.
Situational syncope is caused by certain bodily functions and movements that lead to a drop in blood pressure, thereby causing a fainting spell. These include bowel movements, coughing, moving too quickly from a sitting to a standing position, and stretching.
Vasovagal syncope occurs when a person experiences a stressful event such as the sight of blood, emotional or physical trauma, emotional stress, or pain. This event causes a reflex known as the vasovagal reaction, where the heart slows down and begins to pump less blood, leading to a drop in blood pressure.
In addition to the previously listed types of fainting with their own causes, other conditions and activities can also cause you to lose consciousness. Syncope episodes can be caused due to hyperventilation, heart muscle or blood vessel problems, and conditions that may cause unusual patterns of stimulation to particular nerves.
Other causes of syncope include diseases of the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary functions like the beating of your heart, and conditions that disrupt the parts of the nervous system that regulate blood pressure and heart rate. These conditions include diabetes, alcoholism, and malnutrition. In some cases, syncope can also be hereditary.
Fainting can also be caused by certain medications such as diuretics, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, nitrates, antipsychotics, and antihistamines. Besides medications, fainting can be from dehydration or overheating, neurological conditions such as a seizure disorder, engaging in too much physical activity, skipping too many meals, and consuming alcohol, marijuana, or illicit drugs.
In order to determine the cause of your fainting spells, your doctor will ask for a complete description of your symptoms and the events leading up to your syncope episodes. Your doctor may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by recreating the situation that led to your fainting. If your doctor believes your fainting is not due to underlying medical conditions, this will usually be the extent of the testing.
However, your doctor may want to conduct further tests to determine if the fainting is related to a heart or brain problem. These tests can include an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram (EKG), and stress tests. If these tests provide normal results yet your doctor still suspects a heart condition, they may order a tilt-table test, where your head and body are tilted 60 to 70 degrees. During the tilt, you may faint due to the drop in blood pressure, but will regain consciousness once you are placed on your back again.
Your doctor may also order an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the activity of your brain waves if they suspect your fainting is caused by a neurological disorder.
To prevent fainting, it may help to make a fist, tense your arms, cross your legs, or squeeze your thighs together. For treatment of fainting, elevating the person’s feet and turning their head to the side will be beneficial. If your fainting spells are not due to a heart condition, further treatment may not be required. If your syncope is cardiac related, you may be prescribed medication or given a pacemaker.
Depending on the cause of your syncope episode, you may experience certain symptoms before or during the episode. These symptoms include dizziness, nausea, weakness, sweating, blurred vision, headaches, shortness of breath, and incontinence. You may also experience a sensation that the room is moving and a ringing in your ears, along with a bluish tint to your skin and numbness on your fingertips and around your lips.
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Invasive therapies may also be used to treat an abnormal heart rhythm, such as electrical cardioversion which sends electrical impulses through your chest wall and allows normal heart rhythm to restart, or catheter ablation which disconnects the pathway of the abnormal rhythm. If your doctor determines that electrical devices are the best course of action, you may be given a permanent pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or biventricular (B-V) pacemakers and defibrillators.
CVG offers a variety of services that can check and treat causes of fainting. At CVG, we perform stress tests that will observe blood flow and test for Atrial Fibrillation. There are three types of stress tests that we perform:
A treadmill test is a test in which you will walk on a treadmill that gets faster and steeper every 3 minutes. This will stress your heart so that our nurse or doctor can determine your EKG and blood pressure.
An echo test is performed before and after your treadmill test to determine how well your heart pumps blood.
A nuclear stress test is a treadmill test that is prefaced by an injection of medicine that shows the flow of blood to your heart.
We also offer cardiac catheterization, in which a catheter is inserted into the heart in order to take pictures and conduct tests. This procedure allows doctors to gain more information about your condition and suggest treatment options if the fainting episode is due to heart conditions.
If these tests determine a problem, we offer treatment solutions to fix several conditions. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.