an act of collapsing to a state to temporary unconsciousness
- present participle of faint
Fainting, frequently called syncope (), 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.
CausesFactors 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. Orthostatic hypotension caused by standing up too quickly or being in a very hot room can also cause fainting.
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.
TreatmentRecommended treatment involves returning blood to the brain by laying the person on the ground with legs slightly elevated or they should lean forwards with their head between their knees. As the dizziness and the momentary blindness passes, the person may experience a brief period of visual disturbances in the form of phosphenes, sudden sore throat, nausea and general shakiness. After the symptoms have passed, sleep is recommended.
TypesVasovagal (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.
Vasovagal syncopeThe vasovagal type can be considered in two forms:
- Isolated episodes of loss of consciousness, unheralded by any warning symptoms for more than a few moments. These tend to occur in the adolescent age group, and may be associated with fasting, exercise, abdominal straining or circumstances promoting vaso-dilatation (eg heat, alcohol). The subject is invariably upright. The tilt-table test, if performed, is generally negative.
- Recurrent syncope with complex associated symptoms. This is so-called Neurally Mediated Syncope (NMS). It is associated with any of the following: preceding or succeeding sleepiness, preceding visual disturbance ("spots before the eyes"), sweating, light-headedness. The subject is usually but not always upright. The tilt-table test, if performed, is generally positive.
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 syncopeFainting 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 diseaseArterial 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.
Clinical symptomsA pre- or near-syncope is diagnosed if the individual can remember events during the loss of consciousness (i.e. reports remembering dizziness, blurred vision and muscle weakness and the fall previous to hitting their head and losing consciousness). If the individual remembers feeling dizzy and loss of vision, but not the fall, then it is considered a syncoptic episode.
As loss of consciousness is a symptom for a variety of conditions and syncope is difficult to rule out outside of a hospital, a thorough examination is required to determine the cause, including interviews with witnesses as well as evaluation with an electrocardiogram.
Clinical TestsIf one is suffering from syncope, there are many underlying causes that may be contributing to the episodes. It is important to understand that there is no master list of tests that are currently being used to diagnose the underlying cause(s). That being said, there are some common diagnostic tests for fainting.
CulturalFainting 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.
Children sometimes will play the 'fainting game', deliberately restricting blood flow to the brain in order to induce syncope.
- Grubb, Blair P. The Fainting Phenomenon; Understanding Why People Faint and What to Do About It. 2001. 2nd ed. New York: Blackwell Publishing, 2007
fainting in Arabic: إغماء
fainting in Catalan: Síncope
fainting in German: Synkope (Medizin)
fainting in Spanish: Síncope
fainting in French: Syncope (médecine)
fainting in Galician: Síncope (medicina)
fainting in Ido: Sinkopo (medicino)
fainting in Indonesian: Pingsan
fainting in Italian: Sincope (medicina)
fainting in Lithuanian: Alpimas
fainting in Dutch: Syncope (medisch)
fainting in Japanese: 失神
fainting in Polish: Omdlenie
fainting in Portuguese: Síncope (saúde)
fainting in Russian: Обморок
fainting in Finnish: Pyörtyminen
fainting in Swedish: Svimning
fainting in Ukrainian: Синкопе
fainting in Walloon: Sdårniyon
fainting in Yiddish: חלשות
fainting in Chinese: 昏厥