It’s one of the scariest things that can happen.
One minute you’re fine… and the next you’re out cold! And it can be even more frightening if you’re with a friend or loved one who faints.
But passing out suddenly, called syncope (pronounced SIN-ko-pee), is very common. It could be a symptom of something serious, but more often than not, it isn’t.
Now, three leading heart groups have issued some guidelines for doctors to follow when treating patients after a fainting episode.
And they’re much simpler than you would think.
Back in Victorian times, fainting was downright fashionable!
There were even “fainting rooms” for proper ladies to retire to should they feel lightheaded. The reason thought to be behind all that sudden swooning during that era is that women wore corsets that reduced their lung capacity and prevented them from breathing normally!
But suddenly passing out wasn’t just a passing fad, or strictly the result of wearing super-tight undergarments. According to some new medical guidelines, people still do it all the time — not just women, but also men, teens and even kids.
In fact, some new recommendations just released by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the Heart Rhythm Society on how to treat syncope reveal that people are dropping like flies!
In fact, half of us will unexpectedly pass out at some point. The most common reason is a sudden drop in blood pressure. When that happens, you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain and can lose consciousness.
True syncope resolves very quickly, and you should be back to normal in a few minutes. If not, you should be evaluated in the ER.
As the organizations said in their recommendations, even though it’s scary, “faints are not life-threatening.” And for the most part, they don’t happen due to some serious condition like a brain tumor or any other frightening ailment you might worry about after an episode.
While syncope can happen for no apparent reason at all, some things are known to trigger it, such as:
- a sudden fright, extreme stress, or, if you’re extremely squeamish, the sight of blood,
- receiving an injection (especially true for teens),
- too-low blood pressure,
- exerting yourself at a high altitude, and
- taking certain drugs, as well as being dehydrated.
While you might think that suddenly passing out calls for some pretty extensive medical testing, these new recommendations say otherwise.
For example, the experts said that while a physical examination and electrocardiogram (ECG) — if a heart problem is suspected — are definitely indicated, other kinds of testing have been found to be “not useful.” Those include cardiac imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, and a routine lab workup.
And while drugs are “not very effective” in treating common fainting spells, pacemakers have been found to be helpful if they’re caused by a slow heart rate.
One exception the experts cite is that of an athlete who has repeated syncope episodes, which may well indicate a heart problem. Also, passing out while exercising can be a symptom of something more serious.
But despite the fact that fainting usually doesn’t mean something is seriously wrong with you, it still comes with a very big danger. And that’s the possibility of falling and hitting your head or even breaking a bone.
Since it’s usually preceded by dizziness, blurred or tunnel vision and muscle weakness, probably the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, should you experience any of those symptoms, is to sit down before you fall down.
And gals, steer clear of those corsets!
“New guideline: ECG warranted in syncope evaluation” Salynn Boyles, March 10, 2017, MedpageToday, medpagetoday.com