Vasovagal Syncope: What You Should Know

Vasovagal syncope is a condition that causes people to faint as a result of overstimulation to the vagus nerves. The vagus nerves are two large nerves that control many of the body’s processes that are involuntary (breathing, heartbeat, etc.). When these nerves are triggered, the blood vessels relax and dilate, which lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure. Blood pools in the lower half of the body, unable to properly reach the brain, thus causing one to faint. Vasovagal syncope is the most common cause of fainting. Here are 5 things you should know about it.

Causes of Vasovagal Syncope

Fainting as a result of vasovagal syncope is caused by specific triggers. These triggers vary from person to person. Knowing what causes you to faint can be helpful for preventing episodes from occurring. Common causes of vasovagal syncope include such triggers as:

  • Feeling stressed, or experiencing fear
  • Having your blood drawn
  • The sight of blood
  • Standing for prolonged periods of time
  • Exposure to heat
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive straining

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Symptoms of Vasovagal Syncope

While fainting may seem random and sudden, there are several symptoms that often present themselves before fainting. Learning to recognize these symptoms can help you avoid a fainting episode or at least get yourself into a safe place (eg: pulled over if you’re driving, sitting down if you’re walking) before you faint. Common symptoms you are about to faint include:

  • Feeling lightheaded or nauseous
  • Blurred or tunnel vision
  • You may feel warm. It is also possible that you may break out into a cold sweat (which can cause you to feel clammy).
  • The color may drain from your face.

Most fainting episodes do not last for long periods of time, and people typically begin to recover within a few moments (sometimes as quickly as less than a minute later). However, if you try to stand up too soon after fainting, usually within a half an hour, you put yourself at risk for fainting again.

Is Vasovagal Syncope Dangerous?

In short, vasovagal syncope is not dangerous or life-threatening. One of the biggest concerns is the potential injuries that can be sustained as a result of fainting. Injuries can be serious, particularly for older individuals. It is important that you work with your doctor and become educated about the condition, your particular triggers, recognizing your symptoms, and what you should do in the event that you begin to experience these symptoms.

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Preventing Fainting Episodes

There are specific treatments for vasovagal syncope. The best way to manage your condition is to know, and avoid, your triggers. For some, fainting can be prevented through diet and nutrition. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. A well-balanced diet can help you to obtain a wide variety of essential nutrients help maintain the strength of the blood vessel walls, improve oxygen supply to blood cells, and prevent low blood pressure and fluctuation in your blood sugar levels.

In the event that you do feel a fainting spell coming on, there are things you can do to prevent injury, as well as help you avoid loss of consciousness. Lying down with your feet elevated is one of the most effective actions you can take. If you are in a position where lying down is not possible, squatting or sitting with your head between your knees may also help. If you have fainted, remaining lying down with your feet elevated for 15 to 30 minutes may allow your blood flow to return to normal and lower the risk of fainting a second time.

Those with Vasovagal Syncope Should Wear a Medical ID

If you are living with vasovagal syncope, discuss the right self-care and management methods with your personal physician, as these general tips may not apply to all people with this condition. And of course, we recommend that you wear a medical alert ID. A medical alert bracelet or necklace can advocate for you in the event that you are unable to communicate or advocate for yourself. Emergency responders will be able to see what your condition is, provide you with the assistance you need, and help you to avoid tests and treatments that you don’t. Your medical ID should include your name, that you have vasovagal syncope, and numbers for your emergency contact(s), which will allow anyone assisting you to easily get in touch with a family member or friend.

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    • Such great info! Do these bracelets help in the event ambulances are called each time I faint? It’s certainly not cheap to pay for the ambulances every time this happens and I’m trying to find a solution.

      • Great question, Erin! All of our med IDs feature the universally recognized medical caduceus symbol, which EMTs and other first responders use to identify the location of your med info, engraved on the back. Many people with vasovagal syncope find that they’re able to avoid unnecessary trips to the ER by providing this information to first responders who can then make an informed decision about how to best assist you in a given situation.