Fainting: Not Just for the Weak of HeartheadingContent

Posted on October 24, 2014

woman who fainted laying on a stone walkwayIn one moment, you’re standing in line at the crowded Apple store waiting for the new iPhone, and before you know  what’s happening, your knees become weak, you feel funny, light-headed and then the lights appear to dim. Your eyes open to find yourself staring at a crowd of people and the blaring fluorescent lights cause you to squint. Were you overwhelmed by the moment? Did you skip breakfast? Or, perhaps, did something more profound just happen? Fainting, or syncope (sin-ko-pea), as we call it in medicine, is a common reason to seek medical attention.

Some statistics speculate that almost one-in-two people will pass out at some point in their lifetime. This is commonplace, but not any less traumatic to one’s psyche. Fainting can be socially embarrassing, if not disarming to our confidence.

So why do we faint? There are actually a number of reasons why people faint, but as common as it is, it can often be difficult to pinpoint. Most people faint due to a change in heart rate and blood pressure which causes a temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain. It’s that sudden decrease that causes one to pass out: Doctors call that vasovagal or neurocardiogenic syncope. Whether it’s standing for a long period of time in a line or getting woozy at the site of your own blood, the underlying condition is still the same.

Another major cause of fainting can be a slow heart rate. The elderly suffer from aging of their heart’s natural pacemaker, and with time, may need an actual pacemaker to keep their heartbeat up to speed. Unexpected drops in heart rate can cause the body to suddenly flop to the ground with no warning, not only breaking a hip, but also one’s confidence. Fainting repeatedly may prompt further medical work-up. But the frequency of fainting may not necessarily imply any more danger.

What should then prompt further evaluation? Some red flags that could raise concern with your doctor include passing out with exercise, palpitations or feeling like your heart is pounding, and a family history of syncope or sudden unexpected death. Fortunately, all hope is not lost. Education and lifestyle changes by identifying possible triggers can help minimize those factors that can be exacerbating your condition. With some medical advice, close attention and if need be, some treatment, fainting does not have to interfere with your quality of life.