Syncope is a fancy term for fainting. When a person faints they become unconscious for a time then return to normal wakefulness. Fainting happens because an area in the brain stem called the reticular activating system is switched off or one half of the brain has shut down. Shutting down means that a part of the brain is starved of oxygen.
Oxygen is delivered to the brain via blood flow, and the blood flow can be interrupted because the heart, for some reason, can’t pump the blood to the brain. Fainting can also be caused because the blood pressure is too low or the blood vessels might simply not have enough blood. In some cases, all of the above causes can lead to a person passing out.
The most common reason for fainting is when the heart rhythm changes. The heart may beat so rapidly that the blood vessels can’t fill up with blood in time and so the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen to remain conscious. When the heart beats too slowly it might not be able to pump blood adequately. The heart may have abnormalities that also interfere with its ability to pump blood. These abnormalities can involve the valves in the hart, which move the blood in the right direction. The valves may be too narrow or they may leak. Both cases can diminish the amount of blood the heart can pump. Other causes of syncope can be medicines that interfere with the heartbeat.
Some people faint or feel faintish when they get up too quickly from lying or sitting. This is called postural hypotension. A person can also faint because of vasovagal syncope. This is an imbalance between adrenaline and acetylcholine. Acetylcholine, which destimulates the body, is released through the stimulation of the vagus nerve. When this happens, the heartbeat slows down and the blood vessels open up and so it’s harder for the blood to get to the brain. The vagus nerve is also the reason why people faint when they experience pain or hear or witness something shocking.
Since there are many reasons to faint, there are many ways to treat someone who suffers from fainting. The first thing that needs to happen when someone faints is to call 911, even if the cause of the fainting turns out to not be serious. Moreover, once at the hospital the medical team can assess what caused the person to faint.
People can prevent syncope by being careful to not get up too quickly from sitting or lying. They can sit or lie down if they feel faint. If the fainting is caused by medicine, they can ask their doctor to change their dosage. They should also make sure that they’re hydrated. They can also be monitored if they believe the fainting is because of something serious.