*This is an abbreviated version of the complete article.
Syncope (fainting) is a sudden temporary loss of consciousness, which results when the heart does not pump enough oxygenated blood to the brain.
Syncope can have many causes that can range from benign to life-threatening.
Heart disease, including blocked coronary arteries, arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure, can cause syncope.
Treatment for syncope focuses on identifying and treating the underlying cause for the syncope.
Syncope, or fainting, is a sudden loss of consciousness with a rapid, spontaneous recovery.
Syncope often recurs and it can be harmless to life threatening. Therefore, people who experience an episode of syncope should seek medical attention.
Physicians group syncope into three categories:
Cardiac syncope; and
Syncope of unknown cause.
Most commonly, syncope does not occur because of a heart condition. Cardiac syncope results from arrhythmias or a disorder that reduces the heart's ability to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Treatments for syncope depend on its cause and can include adjusting medications, taking medications, pacemaker implantation, and surgical procedures.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Syncope often occurs without any symptoms. Symptoms can include:
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS
Causes of noncardiac syncope include:
Malfunction of the body's blood pressure regulation system;
Being in a crowded area;
Being in a warm area;
Rising suddenly from a prone position;
Vigorously coughing, swallowing, or straining to defecate;
Narrowed carotid arteries;
A stroke or transient ischemic attack;
Autonomic nervous system disorders such as a spinal cord injury; and
Medications such as antihypertensives, antidepressants, or Parkinson's drugs.
Cardiac syncope is caused by arrhythmias and conditions that can reduce the amount of blood the heart pumps, including:
Sick sinus syndrome;
Certain congenital heart disorders;
Pulmonary hypertension; and
Congestive heart failure.
Syncope can also be a symptom of a malfunctioning man-made replacement heart valve or a malfunctioning pacemaker.
Factors that increase a person's risk for syncope include female gender and age.
The physician will perform a detailed medical history and a physical examination.
The physician may also order the following tests:
Tilt table testing;
ECG stress test;
Cardiac catheterization and angiography.
Treatment of syncope depends on its cause.
Patients with syncope should consult with their physicians regarding potentially dangerous activities, such as driving, certain jobs, or recreational activities.
Immediate treatment for most forms of noncardiac syncope includes having the person lie horizontally to restore consciousness. Treatment to prevent recurrent noncardiac syncope includes:
Adjusting or prescribing medications
Treatment of cardiac syncope is based on addressing the underlying cardiac condition and includes:
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD);
Radiofrequency catheter ablation;
Coronary artery bypass graft surgery;
Angioplasty and stenting; and
Congenital heart surgery.
Medical Review Date: July 21, 2008
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