Word of the fortnight: Syncope

For some reason this pregnancy I am quite literally all over the place. Not just in the ‘baby brain’ sense (although I utterly hate that term with a passion…!) but also due to the fact I keep wobbling about and toppling over. I seem to have morphed into one big ball of pathetically low blood pressure, which is permanently on the brink of making me pass out. Therefore for reasons that shall imminently become obvious, the word of the fortnight is: SYNCOPE.

Syncope is the medical word for fainting. It actually has quite a precise definition in order to distinguish it from other causes of collapsing. Syncope is defined as ‘transient loss of consciousness and postural tone’ i.e. fall to the floor and go all floppy. It is characterised by the triad of coming on quickly, being short-lived and resolving spontaneously. It is due to a temporary reduction in blood flow to the brain.

There are many causes and types of syncope. The commonest is due to something triggering the autonomic nervous system to very briefly malfunction. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating our internal organs and this short-lived glitch can result in a typical ‘faint’ or what is medically known as vasovagal syncope. This is not a serious condition and in the most part does not cause any long-term consequences, other than obviously if you injure yourself mid-faint (edges of bathroom sinks/shower are notorious for this). Many of you reading this will be very aware of typical triggers for vasovagal syncope, such as seeing something unpleasant e.g. blood or needles, pain or even excessive fatigue.

Dips in blood pressure – which is my own little pregnancy related specialty – can also bring on syncope. Rather than actually passing out, drops in blood pressure more commonly cause the sensation of being about to faint, which we imaginatively term ‘pre-syncope’. Blood pressure related pre-syncope causes that classical feeling you get if you stand up too quickly or leap out of a hot bath.

There are loads of other ‘small print’ causes for syncope so if you suddenly start coming over all faint, it is worth speaking to your GP to see if he or she would recommend any initial tests or investigations such as routine blood testing or a 12 lead ECG.

Sorry thats all for now – think I’d better go and sit down!


3 responses

  1. ‘Word of the fortnight’ is a brilliant idea! I feel I am learning……


  2. Once again very readable but informative, I feel the need to put this on my cpd! Probably should ask for copyrights!!
    Luckily pregnancy is only 40wks, so get well soon! For some reason my bp dropped further with each pregnancy & I had several syncopal episodes with the 3rd! Expect if I had a 4th I would need 9 months bed rest!!!! Def not an option!


    1. Thanks – seems I’m not alone then!!


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