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What is a Vasovagal Syncope?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Vasovagal syncope is a fainting episode caused by an overaggressive physical reflex which momentarily slows the flow of oxygen to the brain, causing the patient to lose consciousness. People refer to vasovagal syncope as a common faint, reflex syncope, neuromediated syncope, or neurocardiac syncope. Which such faints are generally not harmful unless someone falls and is injured, fainting can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health problem such as a circulatory disorder, and for this reason it is important to seek medical attention after fainting.

People can experience vasovagal syncope and be perfectly healthy. Some people experience an episode once or twice in their lives, while others may experience numerous episodes. The fainting is usually brought up by stress, an uncomfortable physical position, heat, dehydration, crowded spaces, or shock.

In a vasovagal episode, the blood vessels dilate and the heart rate stays the same or slows down because of stimulation to the vagus nerve which regulates, among many other things, the heart beat. The net result is that blood pressure drops, causing blood to pool in the legs. The lowered blood pressure makes it hard to push blood into the brain, and as a result, the patient faints because the brain is deprived of oxygen. Patients often experience warning signs such as becoming pale, feeling faint or nauseous, or seeing spots before they faint.

There are some steps which can be taken to address vasovagal syncope if it is a recurrent problem. Sometimes medications can help the patient maintain her or his blood pressure to avoid fainting or address stress reactions which cause a vagus reaction. Drinking fluids and maintaining high fluid levels can be helpful and some patients also benefit from breathing exercises and other stress coping tips which can help them feel more comfortable in stressful situations.

Patients who are prone to vasovagal syncope usually become familiar with the warning signs. When a patient knows what she or he may faint, sitting or lying down as well as asking for room is advised. Patients may also want to alert friends and family members so that they are not startled by fainting episodes. In cases where management and treatments are not effective, management is usually focused on trying to keep patients out of environments where fainting can occur, and encouraging patients to speak up when they are about to faint so that the people around them can make sure that they are safe.

Recurrent fainting episodes can be cause for the concern. Diagnostic tests can be run to learn more about why someone is fainting to rule out potential causes beyond vasovagal episodes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon998198 — On Apr 24, 2017

My daughter has had seven vasovagal episodes over the past 10 years, two just recently in one day. It is very scary when it happens. Looks like she is having a seizure. She is only 15 years old. It does seem to occur when she is fearful, like at the doctor's office. Have others who have witnessed an episode thought it looked like a seizure?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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