Vasovagal syncope, also referred to as "neurocardiogenic syncope" is the most common reason for fainting. Is is considered an abnormal reflex and happens when blood flow is decreased to the brain. It generally occurs when someone is standing up and almost never happens when lying down. The term "syncope", pronounced "sin-ko-pea", is Greek and means "to cut short" or "interrupt". Therefore, syncope is the act of losing consciousness. Vasovagal refers to a specific type of fainting. Vaso meaning blood vessel and Vagal referring to the nerve that supplies sensory information to the central nervous system. Thus, vasovagal syncope is a situation where blood pools in the lower regions of the body and not enough is sent back to the heart to pump to the brain. Since blood pressure is too low, the person "blacks out" temporarily.
Unfortunately, in most instances, the body does not give enough or any advance warning. In fact, the condition is so transient for most patients that they do not even expect it to happen, so most would probably not notice warning signs. But in some cases, vasovagal syncope is characterized by sweating, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and looking "white as a sheet or ghost". Once the person regains consciousness, he/she is usually very tired and wants to sleep or rest.
While vasovagal syncope in itself is not particularly harmful, the act of fainting is very dangerous depending on one's environment. Should a person find himself/herself driving a vehicle, operating machinery, or engaging in other behavior that requires complete concentration and alertness, the condition could be fatal. Even for someone that experiences a vasovagal syncope spell or attack in one's own home is susceptible to danger. Hitting one's head, for example, could cause severe trauma or concussion.
Further, in many patients, it is difficult to accurately ascertain the cause of the fainting. As mentioned, vasovagal syncope is transient and may only happen to a person once in his/her lifetime. Since each person's metabolism is different and since each person consumes a variety of food, beverages and medications, a common thread between patients does not always exist. But vasovagal syncope research has shown that there are specific areas to examine when someone is brought to the hospital after a fainting spell.
One of the first questions, a nurse or doctor will ask is whether or not the patient has had anything to eat or drink for the day. Both dehydration and forgetting to eat breakfast have been known to cause vasovagal syncope. In addition, vasovagal syncope research has determined that low levels of salt can also trigger an episode. Consequently, the heath care provide will order a series of blood tests to determine whether the patient is deficient in a particular chemical or vitamin.
Vasovagal syncope research has also shown that interactions of medications can cause fainting spells. One medication may decrease the effectiveness of another, thereby rendering a condition in that patient that would not be congruous to another patient. The general idea of what caused the attack may be similar among patients but the details are specific to a patient.
In some instances, where the patient has fainting spells often or on a regular basis, if they do not already suffer from high blood pressure, the doctor may prescribe "Fludrocortisone" which reduces the amount of lost sodium through urine and keeps the blood pressure slightly elevated so that the patient no longer experiences vasovagal syncope. It may also be necessary for the doctor to order testing to duplicate the attacks. By placing the patient on a moving table, strapping him/her in so that he/she stays in place, the test hopes to trigger the same response in the patient as when an episode is experienced on its own. By doing so, treatment may be determined. Indeed, vasovagal syncope research has been helpful in diagnosing and treating these types of fainting spells.
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