Syncope is the medical terminology for what we know as “fainting” or “passing out.” Syncope occurs because of a temporary drop in the amount of blood that flows to your brain.
Syncope can happen if you have a sudden drop in blood pressure, a drop in heart rate, or changes in the amount of blood in certain areas of your body. If you pass out, you will likely become conscious and alert right away, but you may feel confused for a bit.
What causes syncope?
Syncope can be caused by many things, but most of them would be either brain or heart/blood vessels related.
Many patients have a medical condition they may or may not know about, that affects the nervous system or heart. Or they may have a condition that affects blood flow through the body and causes the blood pressure to drop when on changing positions (for example, going from lying down to standing).
What are the symptoms of syncope?
The most common scenarios of syncope or before syncope include:
Falling for no reason
Feeling drowsy or groggy
Fainting, especially after eating or exercising
Feeling unsteady or weak when standing
Changes in vision, such as seeing spots or blurry vision
Many times, patients feel an episode of syncope coming on. They have what are called “premonitory symptoms” or "warning signs" such as feeling lightheaded, nauseous, and heart palpitations (irregular heartbeats that feel like “fluttering” in the chest). If you have syncope, you will likely be able to keep from fainting if you sit or lie down and put your legs up when you feel these symptoms.
Syncope can be a sign of a more serious condition. So, it is important to get treatment right away after you have an episode of syncope. Most patients can prevent problems with syncope once they get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Vasovagal syncope is the most common form of fainting and a frequent reason for emergency department visits. It's also called reflex, neurocardiogenic, or vasodepressor syncope. It's benign and rarely requires medical treatment. It is more common in children and young adults, though it can occur at any age.
Vasovagal syncope happens when the part of the nervous system that regulates blood pressure and heart rate malfunctions in response to a trigger, such as emotional stress or pain. It typically happens while standing and is often preceded by a sensation of warmth, nausea, lightheadedness, tunnel vision or visual "grayout." Placing the person in a reclining position restores blood flow and consciousness, and ends the episode.
Situational syncope, which is another type of syncope, is related to certain physical functions, such as violent coughing (especially in men), laughing or swallowing.
Some types of syncope suggest a serious disorder, in particular when associated with:
Palpitations or irregularities of the heart
Family history of recurrent syncope or sudden death