“Siri, Search for Syncope” — Why Did I Just Faint?

Last Friday, right after purchasing my new and coveted iPhone, I fainted. I suppose the excitement was a bit too much for me; after all, these gadgets are pretty nifty. Because I don’t pass out at random every day, the episode shocked the hell out of me and I wanted to understand what caused it to happen.

That morning, I woke up perfectly happy and healthy, completing my usual activities. Soon, the time to get my shiny new iPhone arrived, and so my husband and I took a long but brisk walk to the retailer. When we got there, I knew that I was feeling thirsty and a bit warm, but I also knew that these same side effects could be attributed to quick-paced walking, so I paid little attention.

It was during checkout that I realized the symptoms were getting impossible to ignore. As we were heading out, I was sweating and feeling nauseous. Noticing a tree right by the exit, I made my way towards it. My husband wanted to find me some water, but he didn’t have the chance. As I leaned on the tree, my vision started to blur and I casually stated, “I can’t see.” As he tried to assist me, I lost consciousness.

What is fainting? The scientific world for it is “syncope” and it means a temporary loss of consciousness followed by a return to full wakefulness. The brain consists of two hemispheres, the cerebellum and the brain stem. The blood flow to the brain provides it with oxygen and glucose that are necessary for the cells to stay alive. When a person is awake, an area known as the reticular activation system in the brain stem must be “turned on” and at least one of the hemispheres must be active.

When someone loses consciousness, one of two things must occur: the reticular activating system needs to lose its blood supply, or both hemispheres of the brain need to be deprived of blood, oxygen, or glucose. But why would there be a decrease in blood flow to the brain?

There are a few reasons; the heart may fail to pump the blood properly, the blood vessels may not have enough tone to maintain blood pressure to deliver the blood to the brain, or there is not enough blood (fluid) within the blood vessels. A combination of these factors is also plausible.

The neurology behind syncope is pretty complex since there are multiple reasons for why someone may lose consciousness. There are many very diverse conditions that can cause syncope that range anywhere from heart rhythm changes to dehydration to anemia to stress. The typical symptoms of syncope are lightheadedness, nausea, sweat, weakness, dizziness, vertigo, blurry vision, muffled hearing, and tingling sensations in the body.

I was woken up by the sound of my husband calling my name. It turned out that I had fallen unconscious while he was trying to move me from the tree towards a nearby wall so that I could sit down. He caught me on my way down and prevented me from hitting my head on the pavement. When I came to, I was covered in sweat and my hands were experiencing the tingling sensations mentioned above. It took a few minutes to understand what happened and where I was.

Long story short, for me, it was a pretty scary experience that I would prefer not to repeat ever again. I am now seeking the professional medical assistance necessary for finding out what exactly led me to have this episode and for being able to reduce the chances of it happening again. After all, I just got a shiny new iPhone.

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