Blackouts

Overview

After early childhood, it is not common for people to faint, although it can happen to some people under stressful or hot circumstances.

There are many causes for this, so that the blood pressure is not adequate to support blood flow to the brain when an individual stands up suddenly, to more sinister causes, such as narrowing’s of the heart valves and significant heart rhythm disturbances. The cause may not be related to the heart and a further assessment by a neurologist may be needed – epilepsy will need to be excluded in some cases.

Causes of blackouts

Danger signs that suggest you need more investigation are:

  • Family history of epilepsy or sudden death under age 40
  • Known heart disease
  • Abnormal ECG

It is imperative that you have this investigated as a matter of urgency. The cardiologist will take a history and examine you in detail, looking for signs of irregularity of the heartbeat, evidence of swings in blood pressure, or the sound of narrowing or leakiness of one of the heart valves. He will then perform an Electrocardiogram (ECG), an Echocardiogram and may well order a 24 hour tape analysis. An Implantable Loop Recorder (ILR ) may be needed if symptoms persist. An ILR is a self-contained cardiac recorder, similar in size to a small pacemaker .

Causes of blackouts.

What can I do to help myself?

Until a cause for the blackout is found, it may be best not to drive or go swimming. Increasing fluid intake and reducing both caffeine and alcohol intake may help. More specific treatment depends on the cause. If you get warning symptoms, it is best to lie down with your legs up in the air – this may prevent the blackout if it is cardiac in origin.

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