Syncopal, also called fainting or loss of consciousness, occur when blood and oxygen flow to the brain drops below adequate levels. The human body uses fainting as a defense mechanism. Nonessential bodily functions stop to divert oxygen to vital organs. Heart rate and breathing also speed up to get more oxygen to the brain. These episodes are usually a minor health event, although frequent recurrence may indicate an underlying medical condition. More than the loss of consciousness itself, it is the potential fall and related injuries that pose the greatest health risk during a syncopal episode. Luckily, there are several ways to overcome these episodes.
It is common to hear one should sit or lay down or put their head between their knees when they begin feeling faint. This is recommended because many syncopal episodes are due to orthostatic hypotension. People with this condition experience drops in blood pressure following sudden repositionings, such as standing from a seated or lying position or bending over and straightening up too quickly. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should take care to move carefully and mindfully.
Physical counter-pressure maneuvers or CPMs can help people stay conscious during a syncopal episode. The series of muscle movements raises blood pressure. Squeeze a rubber ball in the dominant hand, or grip one hand with the other hand while pulling them against each other. Cross one leg over the other and squeeze muscles in the legs, abdomen, and buttocks. People who often feel faint can practice CPM to be ready for a syncopal episode.
Low blood sugar triggers syncopal episodes in some people. Warning signs include headaches, weakness, and blurred vision. Eating candy bars or other foods with a high sugar content may prevent fainting. Carbonated beverages, juice, and other sugary drinks are good choices because the body absorbs the sugar quickly. Make sure food and beverages to correct low blood sugar are not diet or low-calorie versions.
Hyperventilating causes syncopal episodes because it lowers carbon dioxide levels in the blood. It may seem odd that too little carbon dioxide is a problem, but the body tries to fix imbalanced blood gases. Inhaling slowly through pursed lips slows respiration, and breathing into a paper bag raises carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Belly breathing with the diaphragm instead of the chest slows respiration, and closing one nostril to inhale air may also help.
Prolonged standing can lead to fainting, especially for people with certain medical conditions and pregnant women. If possible, sit down periodically during hours of standing. Most syncope due to prolonged standing is caused by a drop in blood pressure. Some people recommend compression stockings to stop blood from pooling in the legs.
Dehydration causes decreased blood volume and can lead to orthostatic hypotension, even in people who do not usually experience low blood pressure. Common symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, fatigue, irritability, dry mouth, and thirst. Sit down and slowly drink cool, but not ice-cold, water to avoid fainting from dehydration.
An electrolyte imbalance can be a result of dehydration or drinking too much water without replacing salts and other electrolytes. The imbalance can lead to a syncopal episode, especially after rigorous exercise or sweating in high temperatures. Sports drinks, other beverages with electrolytes, and salted crackers or nuts can help temporarily.
People in hot, crowded areas can faint for many reasons. Overwhelming heat can lead to hyperventilation or extreme anxiety. Large, loud crowds may provoke anxiety or panic attacks. Carefully exiting a large crowd or stuffy building to get some fresh air can help overcome syncopal episodes — fresh air can stop hyperventilating and removing to a quieter location can reduce anxiety.
Vasovagal syncope occurs when the body overreacts to certain triggers. The vagus nerve is responsible for this type of syncopal episode, and triggers range from straining during a bowel movement and coughing too hard. Overcoming vasovagal syncopal episodes depends on identifying one's unique triggers. Taking medicine to suppress coughing or eating a high-fiber diet and drinking enough to ensure soft stools can eradicate or minimize episodes.
Sometimes people faint in response to upsetting events or the sight of blood. Witnessing injuries or violence can trigger fainting, too. Loss of consciousness in such situations can be the result of shock, but not always. People who faint following these triggers can benefit from distraction or blocking their line of sight to an upsetting scenario. Many people who know they have this trigger can recognize it coming on and take measures to avoid exposure to such events.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.