What is Vasovagal Syndrome?
Vasovagal syndrome is a heart condition that can cause a sudden, rapid drop in heart rate and blood pressure, which leads to fainting. The condition may also be described as a vasovagal or neurocardiogenic syncope, or vasovagal attack.
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What are the Signs and Symptoms a Vasovagal Response?
The most common symptom of vasovagal syndrome is episodes of fainting. Prior to fainting, other signs and symptoms of a vasovagal reaction may include:
- Going pale/loss of skin color
- Blurred or tunnel vision
- A cold, clammy sweat
Vasovagal Syncope Diagnosis
To diagnose vasovagal syndrome, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the vasovagal heart condition. Common diagnostic procedures can include:
Echocardiogram: This ultrasound exam uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
Event monitor: This portable EKG device records the heart rate when a button is pressed. It can be worn for weeks or until symptoms occur.
Holter monitor: This portable EKG device continuously records the heart’s rhythms and is worn for 24 to 48 hours during normal activity.
Stress testing: This test is conducted during exercise. If a person can't exercise, medicine is given to increase heart rate. Used along with an EKG, the test can show changes to the heart’s rate, rhythm or electrical activity as well as blood pressure. Exercise makes the heart work hard and beat fast while heart tests are administered.
What Causes Vasovagal Syndrome?
Fainting associated with a vasovagal attack can have many triggers. Vasovagal response syndrome can be caused by:
- Heat exposure
- Standing for long periods of time
- Seeing blood or having blood drawn
- Straining to have a bowel movement
- Running or other strenuous exercise
- Extreme fear, panic or other situational stressors
Vasovagal Syncope Risk Factors
In addition to the causes of vasovagal syndrome, there are several other risk factors:
Age: Vasovagal response syndrome is most common in children, young adults and the elderly.
Heart conditions: Heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmias, a weak heart or signs of heart failure, or a prior heart attack may increase your risk for vasovagal syndrome.
How Can I Prevent Vasovagal Attack?
The fainting associated with vasovagal response syndrome can usually be prevented by avoiding triggers. Reducing heat exposure, especially when engaged in strenuous activity, drinking plenty of fluids, not standing too long, and avoiding things that cause stress will help prevent vasovagal attacks associated with this heart condition.
Vasovagal Syncope Prognosis
Vasovagal syndrome by itself is not a serious condition, but it could be indicative of a more serious condition. Those who experience frequent episodes of vasovagal fainting, or changes in the frequency of episodes, should see a doctor to determine if there are more serious underlying causes.
Vasovagal Syndrome Treatment and Recovery
Your doctor may help you identify your fainting triggers and discuss ways you might avoid them, but in most cases further treatment for a vasovagal attack is unnecessary. If, however, your condition begins to interfere with your quality of life, your physician may suggest the following:
Medication may be prescribed for vasovagal syncope to treat low blood pressure or regulate the central nervous system.
Lifestyle changes to help treat vasovagal response syndrome may include:
- Foot exercises, wearing compression stockings, and tensing your leg muscles when standing may reduce the risk of fainting
- Increasing salt in your diet if you don't usually have high blood pressure
- Avoiding prolonged standing — especially in hot, crowded places
- Drinking plenty of fluids
Very rarely, your physician may recommend implanting a surgical pacemaker to regulate your heartbeat.
Vasovagal Syncope Complications
Complications from vasovagal syndrome arise when fainting spells result in serious injury. Those prone to episodes should avoid triggers and use caution when engaging in activities such as driving, swimming, operating heavy machinery or participating in extreme sports or thrill-seeking activities.
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