Syncopal episode: What to expect?

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A syncopal episode can be triggered by an abrupt, brief drop in the blood flow to the brain. This typically leads to loss of consciousness and muscular control. The individual falls which enables the blood flow to return to the brain. The returning blood flow allows the individual to regain consciousness.

An episode can occur at any age but more likely as an individual gets older. A syncopal episode typically lasts for seconds or minutes. It might be accompanied by brief feeling of confusion after regaining consciousness.

What are the causes?

Syncope can be brought about by an underlying health condition or due to environmental triggers. In some cases, it might stem from an emotional response to a stressful situation.

Severe pain, changes in the blood volume and low blood sugar can also result to syncope.

Syncopal episode
Syncope can be brought about by an underlying health condition or due to environmental triggers.

Some of the usual causes of a syncopal episode include:

  • Low blood pressure or dilated blood vessels
  • Abrupt postural changes such as standing up rapidly
  • Erratic heart beat
  • Extreme stress, fear or pain
  • Prolonged periods of standing
  • Dehydration
  • Pregnancy
  • Exhaustion

What are the signs of a syncopal episode?

A syncopal episode is often preceded by warning signs such as:

  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale skin
  • Abrupt, clammy sweat
  • Sudden changes in the body temperature where the individual feels flushed or chilled
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Visual issues such as tunnel vision, seeing spots, dilated pupils or blurred vision
  • Feeling as if sounds are far away abruptly
  • Lightheadedness or feeling as if the head and body are weightless
  • Headache
  • Shakiness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weakness

What should I do?

If an individual starts to experience the warning signs and feels about to faint, he/she must stop activity and sit or lie down. The body should be lowered down to the ground and raise the legs higher than the head to support blood flow back to the brain. This might be enough to prevent a syncopal episode.

In case the individual faints, sitting or lying down can also help avoid injuries from the fall.

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