22 Oct What Does Fainting Have to Do With Your Heart?
Whether you call it fainting, passing out, or swooning, experiencing a temporary loss of consciousness can be alarming, embarrassing, and even dangerous. Known as syncope in the medical world, this phenomenon occurs as a result of insufficient blood flow to the brain. It can either be benign (harmless) or a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as low blood pressure, anemia, and dehydration, just to name a few.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be covering how fainting is connected to your heart health. Although most cases of fainting are not serious, a doctor’s evaluation is always needed in order to distinguish more serious cases from relatively harmless ones. If you have recently fainted and believe it may have something to do with your heart after reading this article, please get in touch with Jesal V. Popat, M.D., FACC, a top cardiologist in Tampa.
Getting to the Bottom of a Fainting Spell
Approximately 15 percent of all fainting episodes can be attributed to heart rhythm problems, such as tachycardia (fast heart rate) or bradycardia (slow heart rate). Any blockages in the arteries that supply the heart and heart muscle can also disrupt the flow of the blood to the brain and cause fainting as well. Below, we’ll discuss the root causes behind several types of syncope, including cardiac syncope, vasovagal syncope, and postural syncope.
Cardiac or cardiovascular syncope is a type of fainting that stems from a serious heart or vascular condition. It typically occurs suddenly without dizziness, lightheadedness, or other symptoms of presyncope. As previously stated, it’s estimated that cardiac syncope makes up about 15 percent of all fainting episodes. That being said, several problems with your heart can result in cardiac syncope, including:
- Structural problems such as heart valve disorders, dilated cardiomyopathy, and ischemic cardiomyopathy
- Electrical problems such as arrhythmias and conditions like Brugada syndrome
- Other conditions such as aortic dissection or pulmonary embolism
Reflex syncope, also known as neurally mediated or vasovagal syncope, is the most common form of fainting and rarely requires medical treatment. It happens when the blood vessels in your body relax and your heart rate slows down in response to some trigger, whether that’s standing for a long time in a hot, crowded environment or receiving bad news. Some people faint when they see blood, laugh very hard, or get a bad coughing spell. Most frequently, however, this type of fainting is triggered by a combination of dehydration and upright posture.
Postural syncope, also known as postural hypotension or orthostatic hypertension, refers to a sudden drop in blood pressure due to a quick change in position, such as from sitting down to standing. Blood temporarily pools in the legs, and it takes a moment for the body to squeeze up enough blood for the brain to function properly. Certain medication, dehydration, and age can also lead to this condition. For instance, orthostatic hypotension is more likely to occur in older individuals because blood vessels tend to stiffen with age, and the body’s system for monitoring blood pressure gradually becomes less sensitive. Older people are also more likely to be taking certain blood pressure medications, which can worsen this condition.
Anyone with syncope should receive an initial evaluation, including a detailed physical and history examination, measurement of blood pressure and heart rate, and an ECG by a licensed physician. Other tests, such as an exercise stress test and an echocardiogram, may be needed to rule out other cardiac causes as well. Although it’s not always possible to pinpoint the exact underlying cause of syncope, a person’s age, medical history, and the circumstances of the fainting episode typically provide valuable clues. For more information regarding how syncope is diagnosed and treated, please get in touch with Dr. Popat regarding heart care in Tampa.
To consult with Jesal V. Popat, M.D., FACC, a cardiologist in Tampa, FL, please call (813) 344-0934 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.
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