Daily Archives: November 21, 2008

Vasovagal Syncope

This morning, I was reading Mrs. Kiwi’s Blog and she was talking about how she has Vasovagal Syncope. I’m pretty sure that I have this, too. (I wanted to phone my  First off, what is Vasovagal Syncope? (For the record, I’m not entirely sure how to pronounce it) Well, it’s the most common cause of fainting and at least for me, is a reflex to some trigger as shown here:

The reflex responsible for vasovagal syncope works like this: A person is exposed to some stimulus (such as a needle stick) that initiates the reflex. The “stimulated” nerves (the nerves of the stuck finger, for instance) send an electrical signal to the vasomotor center in the brainstem. (The vasomotor center determines the body’s vascular “tone.”) The vasomotor center, in turn, signals the blood vessels in the legs to dilate, causing the blood to pool in the legs, and producing syncope. This same reflex also causes a drop in the heart rate, but usually it is the pooling of blood in the legs – and not the slow heart rate – that produces loss of consciousness.


I think wikipedia describes how I feel when such an episode happens:

In people with vasovagal episodes, the episodes are typically recurrent, usually happening when the person is exposed to a specific trigger. The initial episode often occurs when the person is a teenager, then recurs in clusters throughout his or her life. Prior to losing consciousness, the individual frequently experiences a prodrome of symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, sweating, ringing in the ears, uncomfortable feeling in the heart, weakness and visual disturbances. These last for at least a few seconds before consciousness is lost (if it is lost), which typically happens when the person is sitting up or standing. When sufferers pass out, they fall down (unless this is impeded); and when in this position, effective blood flow to the brain is immediately restored, allowing the person to wake up.

The autonomic nervous system‘s physiologic state (see below) leading to loss of consciousness may persist for several minutes, so:

  1. if sufferers try to sit or stand when they wake up, they may pass out again; and
  2. the person may be nauseated, pale, and sweaty for several minutes.

*note: I realize that this article is sourced improperly, but it has the best description.

I have a few major episodes that stick out in my memory:

  • In Calgary, Grade 5 is the year in which students get a large portion of their immunizations. During these immunizations, I kept on fainting after I had received the needle. This concerned the nurse and my mother greatly, so she took me to the doctor. Of course, I didn’t really know how to describe what was happening so the doctor told me some useless thing. Of course, after we left the doctor, I felt fainty.
  • In High School during CALM (Career and Life Management – completely useful course if taught properly, but it’s usually not) we were watching a video about anorexia and eating disorders. I started feeling incredibly uncomfortable (buzzing ears, hot and cold at the same time, clammy sweating, nauseous, dizzy, etc.) so I asked to go to the bathroom. So I staggered outside and promptly fainted in the hallway. Fortunately, a friend saw me and helped me to the bathroom, where I sat until the class was over.
  • In first year university, I took a class in psychology. It was very interesting, but I felt incredibly uncomfortable through most of it. One day, we were taking about schizophrenia (I’ve always had an irrational fear having some huge mental problem with me) and I started feeling not good. So I left the theatre and fainted as soon as I got into the hallway. Fortunately, someone who was sitting there saw me and helped me to the university clinic. The doctor told me I was fine but I had something starting with a V. (I was very shaken up so I stupidly didn’t write it down.) Note that I did have a follow up appointment about this, but it was with a different doctor and he had no clue what I was talking about.
  • For some reason I was needing to get tons of blood drawn for various tests. I was silly and forgot to tell the nurse that I needed to lie down. So after 10+ vials, I started to feel very woozy – I didn’t even look at the blood being drawn! The nurse asked me if I needed to lie down and I said yes. You know how your body sometimes has a habit of accelerating things that it needs? Well, I walked about two steps and fainted in the hallway. Not fun.

Finding out what the name of this affliction has made me quite pleased with myself. No longer will I have to say: “sometimes when I get really squeamish or uncomfortable, I faint.” So thanks, Mrs. Kiwi. It just took me 10+ years to figure out what it was!

Do you have any weird medical afflictions? How did you find out about them?


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