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Fainting, also called syncope (pronounced /ˈsɪŋkəpi/), is a sudden, and generally momentary, loss of consciousness, or blacking out caused by the Central Ischaemic Response, because of a lack of sufficient blood and oxygen in the brain. The first symptoms a person feels before fainting are dizziness; a dimming of vision, or brownout; tinnitus; and feeling hot. Moments later, the person's vision turns black, and he or she drops to the floor (or slumps if seated in a chair). If the person is unable to slump from the position to a near horizontal position, he or she risks dying of the Suspension trauma effect.
Factors that influence fainting are taking in too little food and fluids, low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, growth spurts, physical exercise in excess of the energy reserve of the body, emotional distress, and lack of sleep. Even standing up too quickly or being in too hot a room can cause fainting. Recommended treatment is to allow the person to lie on the ground with his or her legs slightly elevated. As the dizziness and the momentary blindness passes, the person may experience visual disturbances in the form of small bright dots (phosphene). These will also pass within a few minutes. If fainting happens frequently, or if there is no obvious explanation, it is important to see a physician.
More serious causes of fainting include cardiac (heart-related) causes such as an abnormal heart rhythm (an arrhythmia), where the heart beats too slowly, too rapidly or too irregularly to pump enough blood to the brain. Some arrhythmias can be life-threatening. Other important cardio-vascular conditions that can be manifested by syncope include subclavian steal syndrome and aortic stenosis.
Vasovagal (situational) syncope, one of the most common types, may occur in scary, embarrassing, or uneasy situations or during blood drawing, coughing, or urinating. Other types include postural syncope (caused by a changing in body posture), cardiac syncope (due to heart-related conditions), and neurological syncope (due to neurological conditions). There are many other causes of syncope including low blood sugar levels and lung disease such as emphysema and a pulmonary embolus. The cause of the fainting can be determined by a doctor using a complete history, physical, and various diagnostic tests.
The vasovagal type can be considered in two forms:
A pattern of background factors contributes to the attacks. There is typically an unsuspected relatively low blood volume, for instance, from taking a low salt diet in the absence of any salt-retaining tendency. Heat causes vaso-dilatation and worsens the effect of the relatively insufficient blood volume. That sets the scene, but the next stage is the adrenergic response. If there is underlying fear or anxiety (e.g. social circumstances), or acute fear (e.g. acute threat, needle phobia), the vaso-motor centre demands an increased pumping action by the heart (flight or fight response). This is set in motion via the adrenergic (sympathetic) outflow from the brain but the heart is unable to meet requirement because of the low blood volume, or decreased return. The high (ineffective) sympathetic activity is always modulated by vagal outflow, in these cases leading to excessive slowing of heart rate. The abnormality lies in this excessive vagal response. The tilt-table test typically evokes the attack.
Much of this pathway was discovered in animal experiments by Bezold (Vienna) in the 1860s. In animals, it may represent a defence mechanism when confronted by danger ("playing possum"). This reflex occurs in only some people and may be similar to that described in animals.
The mechanism described here suggests that a practical way to prevent attacks would be, counter-intuitively, to block the adrenergic signal with a beta-blocker. A simpler plan might be to explain the mechanism, discuss causes of fear, and optimise salt as well as water intake.
Pure cardiac syncope
Fainting can also occur if pressure on the carotid artery in the neck triggers a vagal signal to the Vaso-Motor Centre, reflexly causing a vagal response to slow the heart. A pure cardiac arrhythmia is a serious matter that can appear as syncope but this is unusual. Severe narrowing of the Aortic Valve leading to syncope is included for completeness.
Syncope from vertebro-basilar arterial disease
Arterial disease in the upper spinal cord, or lower brain, causes syncope if there is a reduction in blood supply, which may occur with extending the neck or after drugs to lower blood pressure.
If the patient states, "I felt dizzy with blurry vision, muscle weakness, during the fall I bumped my knee, hit my head and passed out," then it is not syncope, it is termed pre or near-syncope.
If the patient states, "I felt dizzy, shadows came over my eyes, and when I woke up I was lying on the floor," then it is diagnosed as syncope.
Patients who experience a syncoptic episode do not remember falling.
Fainting in women was a commonplace trope or stereotype in Victorian England and in contemporary and modern depictions of the period. Partly this may have been due to genuine ill-health (the respiratory effects of corsets are frequently cited), but it was encouraged by the myth of female invalidity, in which it was fashionable for women to affect an aristocratic frailty and create a scene by fainting at a dramatic moment.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Fainting". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|