What is Syncope?
Syncope is a sudden and brief loss of consciousness (also known as fainting or “passing out”) usually caused by a temporary drop in the amount of blood that flows to the brain.1 It may or may not result in a fall to the floor. When you wake up you might be confused about what happened.
Syncope is common and affects about 3% of men and 3.5% of women at some point in life1. Sometimes syncope can be mistaken for a type of seizure (also known as a drop attack), where a person may fall to the floor and lose muscle control.
How can you tell if it is Syncope or Seizures?
Syncope and seizures have several similar symptoms and feelings, but there are also important differences. People who have the warning signs of dizziness, nausea, and sweaty palms should immediately sit or lie down. They should also reach-out to their doctor right away to schedule an evaluation.2
- Blurred vision, seeing spots or tunnel vision
- Pale skin
- Usually lasts less than 1 minute
- Possible jerking movements that do not last more than a few seconds
- Possible loss of consciousness
- Uncontrollable muscle spasms with twitching or jerking limbs
- Foaming/drooling at the mouth
- Eye movements
- Mood changes
- Aura or an odd feeling before the seizure happens
- Usually lasts around 1-2 minutes
Testing for Syncope
Syncope can be caused by various things such as standing up too suddenly, an irregular heartbeat, dehydration, a drop in blood pressure, or a neurological condition such as a seizure or stroke.
To complete a proper diagnosis of syncope or some other condition your doctor will begin with a detailed medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor may also order one or more of the following tests4:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) – non-invasive test to monitor your heart’s electrical activity
- Mobile Cardiac Telemetry (MCT) – a portable ECG that monitors your heart for an extended period of time
- Exercise Stress Test – a test using an ECG to record your heart rate while you are using a treadmill or stationary bike
- Tilt-Table Test – a test using an ECG to determine how you respond to different positions
- Video EEG – a portable, non-invasive test that monitors your brain waves and records your body movements. This test can be performed inside the home and at the same time as an MCT test if your symptoms make it particularly hard to tell if your events are syncope or seizure
Your physician will use the results from your test(s) to determine if you have syncope and what the root cause of it is.
Treatment for Syncope
Once your doctor determines the cause of the syncope, they can prescribe different treatment options based on your individual health history. Some possibilities include:
- Blood pressure medications
- Diet and exercise changes
- A pacemaker
- Syncope [Internet] 2019 May 19 [cited 2021 Sept 10] Available from:https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17536-syncope
- American Heart Association [Internet]. 2017 June 30 [cited 2021 Sep 20]; Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/symptoms-diagnosis–monitoring-of-arrhythmia/syncope-fainting
- Fainting vs. Seizure: How to Tell the Difference [Internet] 2019 Aug 12 [cited 2021 Sep 10] Available from:https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/fainting-or-seizure.html
- Roberts, James R. MD InFocus, Emergency Medicine News: June 2017 – Volume 39 – Issue 6 – p 8-9 doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000520580.50718.46