Syncope, more commonly known as fainting, is a medical condition where there is a temporary loss of consciousness. This could be due to a number of reasons but the most common is an insufficient amount of blood flow to the brain. This is typically brought on by a decrease in blood pressure, resulting in a reduction of oxygenated blood that reaches the cranium. While in many cases it is harmless, there are still serious reasons why fainting spells could occur.
If you’re worried you might be suffering from syncope, here are signs to watch out for:
- Vision changes, such as seeing spots or experiencing tunnel vision
- Blacking out
Most of those that suffer fainting will feel premonitory symptoms before passing out. These typically include lightheadedness, dizziness, and a fluttering heartbeat. If you feel these come on, sit down immediately and elevate your legs. Breathe calmly and wait for the symptoms to subside. While the symptoms themselves aren’t necessarily dangerous, falling during a fainting spell can be extremely harmful due to the possibility of hitting your head.
If you suffer syncope, it’s important to head in for an official evaluation. Expect a basic physical where your blood pressure and heart rate will be measured and your medical records examined. You will also be recommended an ECG, or electrocardiogram. This test is quick and painless and provides your doctor with a lot of information. It checks your heart rhythm, blood flow, and detects if you have any electrolyte abnormalities. If your doctor wants to make absolutely certain your heart isn’t the issue, you may also be asked to undergo an exercise stress test, echocardiogram, and Holter monitor.
If this initial diagnosis doesn’t produce sufficient results, a tilt test can be administered. This exam puts you on a bed that can be tilted as your blood pressure and heart rate are monitored. This checks specifically for the more serious but far rarer neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS).
Depending on the ultimate cause of the syncope suffered, there are many ways to treat it.
If the syncope is caused by a simple issue, like dehydration, it is recommended to increase fluid intake, ask a medical professional for guidance on how to avoid the issue in the future, and increase salt intake by a small amount.
If is caused by an irregular or slow heartbeat, often times the best choice is the insertion of a pacemaker. This allows the heart to be monitored continually as well as be stimulated with an electrical impulse should the beats drop below a certain amount per minute.
If the cause is a rapid heart rate, there are few more options available, all based on if the issue is located in the upper or lower chambers. These include medications, catheter ablation, cardioversion, and implanting a cardioverter defibrillator.