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?



Filed under Thoughts

10 responses to “Vasovagal Syncope

  1. Oh, that does not sound like fun. I have plenty of weird medical afflictions but I won’t bore you! I have felt like this but it only comes on when I haven’t slept enough so I don’t think I have this 🙂

  2. Bean

    I’m sure I wouldn’t be bored – sometimes I’m really weird and will talk about such things for hours.
    The funny thing is after I wrote this, my husband and I had this huge discussion about self-diagnosis. (Go figure that he works in the medical industry :P)

  3. osric

    Wow. I can really empathize with you. I’m 55 and about 3 years ago I fainted (had a vasovagal incident) at the eye doctor. About 6 months later I fainted at the dentist, and now I faint whenever I go to a doctor. I had all the usual injuries people get growing up, including some broken bones, and I never once fainted. Now I feel whoozy just walking into the office. I have been checked out by numerous doctors and there is nothing physically wrong, they just say it’s anxiety. I never feel like fainting or anxious except going to the doctor. The curious part is that I’m not afraid of the medical part, but I’m terrified of fainting and making an idiot of myself. The harder I try and keep it from happening the worse it gets. At least now I tell the doctors so I can lie down, and I have to admit that most docs are sympathetic. However I find myself procrastinating on routine appointments. Does anyone know how I can stop the fainting???

  4. osric – I don’t know what will stop the fainting, but things like wiggling your toes, lying down, mentally preparing yourself and moral support are helpful for me. Have any of those things helped you?

  5. osric

    Thanks Bean. Yes I have tried all types of redirection techniques; doing math problems in my head, composing music, thinking of animals or whatever that start with a certain letter. Even thinking “happy thoughts”. Nothing works. I do tried and mentally prepare by rationalizing how foolish fainting is. But the emotional response always wins over the intellectual. I’m not an anxious person and everything else in life seems to be going great. Somehow I conditioned myself to fear doctors. Or more correctly to fear fainting in front of doctors and make an idiot of myself. I worked in a hospital for years before I retired and never had this problem. It is so frustrating not to be able to control my own body.

  6. osric – I can only imagine! That sounds terribly frustrating.
    Have you ever tried talking to a phobia counsellor or someone like that? For unfortunately, it’s not as if you can always remove yourself from the trigger (doctor’s office) because one needs to go there at least occasionally.

  7. osric

    Well, I finally went to a doctor that understood. I was so humiliated. Every my wife could not understand or talk about it. I felt sooo ashamed of fainting. It was so hard fror me to talk about it in person. But my doctor was very simpathatic and said she has seen this before and she realized it was an impossible thing to control. Vasovagal syncope is an involuntary reflux. I’m not sure how this happened, but at the point all I want to do is stop it. She said that she has seen people in treatment for years that have made no progress. Apparently many drugs like SSRI’s do more harm than good. She said that the only thing that stops the vagvaso syncope are benodiazpines. such as Klonopin, Ativan or Xanax.
    Sure these drugs are addicting, but nothing else works. So she gave me a perscription for only 30 that will get me through doctor appointments and stressfull times. This will probably last me a year or more. This will allow me to live a normal live.
    Sure I hate drugs, but sometimes they are the only answer. Like anything else, drugs can be used for good or bad. I hope this has helped someone else with my problem.

    for yeras with little progress

  8. Thanks for sharing, Osric! I’m glad that there is something out there that has helped.

  9. This has really been a help to me, my daughter is 15 and this has happened to her 3 times twice out of pain and once the first day of school and it has been in the last year. My question to you is which of the three medications has worked best for you? I’m going to mention this to her doctor, I was just wanting your opinion. Thank You so much.

  10. Misty – that must be so difficult to deal with. To be honest, I actually haven’t tried going on medication because I’m already on too much, which probably helps it anyways. Your doctor should be able to find something that works.
    I personally find the best technique is knowing how I’m triggered, trying to avoid such situations and leaving the situation if I need to.
    Good luck – my thoughts and prayers are with you! 🙂

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