Syncope (Fainting)

Syncope occurs when a temporary drop in blood flow to the brain causes someone to pass out.

Syncope (also known as fainting) occurs when a temporary drop in blood flow to the brain causes someone to briefly lose consciousness. Although syncope can affect anyone, this condition is more common among older adults.

Causes of Syncope

Syncope is caused by a temporary drop in blood flow to the brain. This may occur for a number of different reasons:

  • Vasovagal syncope (also known as cardio-neurogenic syncope or reflex syncope) – Certain triggers—such as standing for too long, not drinking enough water or experiencing intense pain or emotions—can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, which in turn reduces blood flow to the brain. This is the most common type of syncope.
  • Postural syncope (also known as postural hypotension) – When someone quickly changes position—such as standing up from sitting or lying down—it can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, which can lead to fainting.
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) – Similar to postural syncope, POTS causes someone to faint when they stand up after sitting or lying down. However, while postural syncope involves a drop in blood pressure, POTS causes someone’s heart rate to rapidly increase.
  • Neurologic syncope – Some neurological conditions—including seizures, transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) and strokes—can cause someone to faint.

Fainting can also be a side effect of certain medications. And in many instances, there is no known cause.

Symptoms of Syncope

In some instances, someone who is about to faint may have heart palpitations and feel lightheaded and nauseous. Along with losing consciousness, someone with syncope may experience:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Grogginess
  • Weakness
  • A feeling of unsteadiness
  • Vision changes such as tunnel vision or seeing spots

In most cases, a person who has fainted will quickly regain consciousness. However, he or she may still experience some temporary confusion.

Diagnosing Syncope

In addition to performing a physical examination, a physician may use the following tests to diagnose syncope:

  • Ambulatory monitoring
  • Autonomic reflex test
  • Blood test
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Exercise stress test
  • Hemodynamic test
  • Tilt table test

Treatment for Syncope

The experienced practitioners at Tampa General Hospital may be able to treat syncope through:

  • Medication
  • Suggesting lifestyle changes such as eating smaller meals more frequently, increasing sodium and potassium intake, wearing support garments and elevating the head while sleeping
  • Implantation of a pacemaker or a cardiac defibrillator