In the movies, people faint when they're surprised, frightened or maybe exposed to something unpleasant. But in real life, fainting can actually be a sign of heart trouble or other serious health issues.
Syncope — the clinical term for fainting — is the temporary loss of consciousness due to a sudden reduction in blood flow to the brain. It affects more than 1 million Americans each year and causes roughly 10 percent of falls involving the elderly.
"People who suffer from mysterious fainting episodes often live in fear because of these frequent bouts of unconsciousness that can happen at any moment," says Kousik Krishnan, MD, a cardiologist who is director of the Arrhythmia Device Clinic and associate director of the Electrophysiology Lab at Rush.
Sufferers may be told that they are under stress, anxiety or heat exhaustion, and they're often treated with anxiety medication.
"Some types of syncope can be triggered by emotional stress, but other types of syncope can be caused by cardiac conditions, metabolic disorders and neurological issues," says Krishman says.
The Syncope Clinic at Rush was established as a resource for people with fainting issues to help evaluate and pinpoint the cause, Krishnan says.
Syncope caused by a cardiovascular condition can be particularly difficult to diagnose, Krishnan says, because abnormal heart rhythm activity may be infrequent or not obvious to the patient.
Since it can take a long time to monitor syncope patients with sporadic symptoms, specialists at Rush are employing small, wireless implantable cardiac monitors, which are placed just under the skin during a simple outpatient procedure. The devices store data that physicians can review to identify abnormalities or arrhythmias.
"These wireless devices are an effective diagnostic tool for identifying why many people have syncopal episodes," Krishnan says. "Also, these devices can potentially help us diagnose patients quicker and with substantial cost savings."
People suffering from chest pain, shortness of breath, blurred vision, bouts of unconsciousness and slurring of speech, should immediately seek medical help and go to the emergency room.
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
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