Syncope, the medical term for fainting, is not uncommon in women. In fact, more than 40 percent of women will experience a fainting spell at some point in their life. Syncope refers to a temporary loss of consciousness and shouldn’t be confused with dizziness or feeling lightheaded.
The good news is that syncope is usually benign. Most of the time, it occurs in response to a trigger, such as standing too long, overheating or emotional stress. This is known as a vasovagal episode. Individuals with vasovagal syncope may feel lightheaded, have pale and clammy skin, be nauseated, have tunnel vision, feel warm all over, yawn, or have blurred vision before actually losing consciousness. This cause of syncope is best treated with lifestyle modification including adequate hydration.
However, it is important to consult with a physician after experiencing a fainting spell – particularly for patients who are 70 or older, as serious cardiac causes are more common in this age group.
Earlier this month, the American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and Heart Rhythm Society released the 2017 Guidelines for the Evaluation and Management of Patients with Syncope. If you experience a fainting spell, your cardiologist will follow these updated guidelines in order to evaluate you. Your physician will perform a physical examination and obtain a detailed medical history, which can provide the most reliable information regarding the cause of syncope. An EKG may also be performed to check for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. In older women, risk factors for syncope include atrial fibrillation, heart failure, aortic stenosis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Participation in competitive sports is generally not recommended for patients experiencing syncope until a serious underlying cause has been excluded.
If you have a serious underlying medical condition (for example, a congenital heart problem) and experience syncope, hospitalization may be necessary, especially if syncope is related to this condition.
- Gill’s Women’s Heart Health Program provides comprehensive and individualized care for women by women physicians, nurses and staff. Learn more about our program and watch a video featuring Dr. Wells.
- Learn more about the UK Center for the Advancement of Women’s Health, which provides comprehensive medical services for women of all ages.