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London Heart

What is cardiac syncope or blackouts?

So you have had a blackout?

Many people experience faints or blackouts now and again and this is completely normal in most circumstances. If you are experiencing recurrent faints, or faints without any warning symptoms or triggers, and find that you injure yourself quite badly afterwards, these are the ones to worry about and really should be taken seriously. If this sounds like your faint, you should seek medical attention.

Why?

The blackouts could be a sign of a more worrying condition which needs prompt assessment by a physician. This could be related to your heart or brain and specialist management of these conditions is important to successful treatment and prevention of future events which can potentially be dangerous.

What will a cardiologist do?

The doctor will ask you a series of questions regarding the nature of your blackouts. This is key to making the right diagnosis, for example what happens before, during and after the event. A witness account is can be particularly helpful. You will also be asked about any other medical conditions and medications you take as well as a detailed family history as some forms of cardiac and neurological blackouts run in families.

Will I have any tests?

As well as a physical examination and blood pressure, an ECG is a quick and easy test which looks at the electrics of your heart. This can often rule out a cardiac cause of your blackouts and the detailed questioning can help rule out a sinister neurological cause. This is why having accurate information to hand when you meet your doctor is critical. You may then be referred for further tests. These may include longer periods of heart rhythm monitoring, an ultrasound scan of your heart or a test known as a tilt table test which looks to see whether your blackout is due to changes in blood pressure or heart rates.

Should I do anything in the mean time?

If you are blacking out, you must not drive until you are reviewed by a physician who tells you otherwise. This is to protect yourself and others from injury. General measures including not locking the door when in the bathroom and avoiding swimming unless closely supervised your blackouts are related to exercise, you should stop this until you are seen.

This all sounds very bad! Should I be worried?

It is very important to remember that the majority of blackouts experienced by the general population are benign in nature and there is nothing to worry about. Conservative measures are usually sufficient (such as avoiding triggers, keeping well hydrated and improving salt intake). In the small proportion where a cause is found, it is usually treatable and careful monitoring and communication with the relevant specialist is important to ensuring a good outcome and quality of life.