What is Syncope and how can Compression Stockings help?
According to its medical definition syncope (fainting) is described as a partial or complete loss of consciousness as a result of inadequate blood flow to the brain. This can also be accompanied by an interruption of a person’s self-awareness and/or the awareness of one’s surroundings.
In most cases, after such a fainting episode the person regains consciousness almost immediately but can briefly remain in a state of confusion. If the confusion after the syncope lasts more than 30 seconds, it is also possible that the individual has experienced some type of seizure activity.
Often there are precursors signaling an impending syncope event such as nausea, irregular heartbeats or lightheadedness. Individuals who experience syncope on a fairly regular basis learn to recognize the signs and may be able to take actions such as laying or sitting and elevating their legs to prevent fainting.
Compression stockings can help with syncope by optimizing the blood flow in the legs and thereby improving the blood circulation overall.
Causes of Syncope
Unfortunately there are many possible causes of syncope and to discuss them in depth here would go far beyond the intended scope of this article. Therefore we are simply giving a very brief overview of possible causes and types of syncope. Luckily most causes of fainting are not life threatening events and the affected individuals usually recover very quickly.
That being said it must be noted that heart related (cardiac) causes of fainting that are indeed life-threatening to the point of sudden death and must therefore receive immediate medical attention.
Life Threatening Causes of Syncope!!!
These highly dangerous causes of syncope include conditions and disorders that obstruct the blood flow through the heart and problems associated with the rhythms of the heart (cardiac arrhythmias). In any case, because syncope can be life threatening, it is most important to seek immediate medical attention to determine the exact cause and whether the patient is at risk of dying.
Syncope is responsible for up to 3% of emergency room visits annually and for approximately 6% of hospital admissions in the USA.
Other Common Fainting (Syncope) Causes
The common fainting spell, medically also known as vasovagal syncope, is the most frequent cause of syncope. This occurs when a person gets up and gravity causes blood to pool in the lower half of the body because the blood vessels do not constrict like they should upon standing. This causes the individuals blood pressure to quickly drop. It is frequently seen in individuals who have been diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension.
Stimulus induced or situational syncope. This occurs when a “stimulus” to certain nerves triggers an exaggerated neurological reflex (for example emotional stress, anxiety, fear, hunger, pain or even the use of drugs or alcohol).
Postural syncope happens to people when lying down, where the individual may feel perfectly well and alert but suddenly faints after standing up. This can happen due to low circulating blood volume from blood loss, or impaired circulatory reflexes when starting or changing cardiovascular medications.
Neurological syncope is a fainting episode resulting from a neurological event such as a stroke, seizure, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or less frequently from migraines.
In 30-40% of all cases the exact cause of the syncope remains unknown.
Treatment Options for Syncope:
Due to the risk that fainting can be caused by a very serious condition, all occurrences of syncope must be taken seriously and should be evaluated by a medical care practitioner as soon as possible.
Depending on the results of your evaluation and the underlying cause of syncope, the treatment goal is primarily to prevent a recurrence of the fainting event.
This can be achieved with one or more of the following:
- Taking new medications or making changes to your current medications
- Wearing compression stockings or other support hosiery to improve the return blood circulation in the legs to the heart
- Taking special precautions when switching positions (e.g. from sitting to standing)
- Making changes in one’s diet such as eating small meals more frequently; increasing fluid, salt and potassium intake and avoiding alcohol and/or caffeine
- Elevating the head of the bed (this can be accomplished by using extra pillows or placing risers under the legs of the head of the bed).
- Avoiding the situations or “triggers” that cause a syncope episode
- Pacemaker implant to regulate the heart rate (only for specific medical conditions)
- Implant of a cardiac defibrillator (ICD). This device constantly monitors your heart rate and rhythm and corrects a fast, abnormal rhythm (for specific medical conditions)
Your health care providers will develop a treatment strategy that is tailored to your individual needs and your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.
Some states require that patients diagnosed with syncope must notify the state driver’s license bureau. Check your state regulations to be sure.
Syncope Self-Care (until medical help arrives)
- Help the individual who has fainted to the floor (if this is possible) to decrease the risk of injury.
- Stimulate the individual energetically (yelling, vigorously tapping). Immediately call 911 if the individual does not respond.
- Check for a pulse and begin CPR, if necessary.
- After the person improves, encourage him or her to lie down until medical help arrives. Even if you believe the cause of the fainting may be harmless, have the person lie down for 15-20 minutes before attempting to get up.
- Ask about any persistent symptoms, such as chest pain, headache, back pain, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, weakness, etc. because these may indicate a life-threatening cause of the syncope.
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