Fainting Alerts More Complicated Heart Problems

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

For those who suffer from fainting spells, the mysterious episodes can be quite scary. Far too often, fainting is chalked up to stress or other mental health issues. However, medical experts at Rush University Medical Center say that reoccurring fainting spells, also known as syncope, could be an important symptom that can point to a more serious, underlying cardiovascular condition.

"People who suffer from mysterious fainting episodes often live in fear because of these frequent bouts of unconsciousness that can happen at any moment," said Dr. Kousik Krishnan, a cardiologist and director of the Arrhythmia Device Clinic and associate director of the Electrophysiology Lab at Rush.

Patients who suffer from unexplained syncope have to modify their daily activities significantly and the condition can greatly impact their daily lives. In many cases, they are unable to drive a car, must quit working and cannot be left alone. Also, because of their frequent fainting spells, patients end up in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital multiple times. They are told that they are under stress, anxiety or heat exhaustion and 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," said Krishnan. "We established the Syncope Clinic as a resource to people with fainting problems to help evaluate and pinpoint the cause for these patients."


According to Krishnan, syncope caused by a cardiovascular condition can be especially challenging to diagnose because abnormal heart rhythm activity may be infrequent or not apparent to the patient. Conditions causing cardiovascular syncope include heart attack, heart failure, heart rhythm disturbances, obstructed blood flow, valvular abnormalities and low blood pressure.

Since it can take extensive periods of time to monitor syncope patients with sporadic symptoms, the cardiac electrophysiology specialists at Rush are using small, wireless implantable electrocardiogram (ECG) devices (also called implantable cardiac monitors). The wireless device, that is the size of a jump drive and weighs less than 15 grams, is placed just under the skin of the chest area using local anesthesia during a simple outpatient procedure. The device stores cardiac rhythm trending information or ECG data that physicians can review to identify abnormalities or arrhythmias.

"These wireless devices are an effective diagnostic tools for identifying why many people have syncopal episodes," said Krishnan. "Also, these devices can potentially help us diagnose patients quicker and with substantial cost savings."

Syncope is a debilitating condition that affects more than more than one million Americans each year. It is the cause of approximately 10 percent of falls by elderly persons and costs the U.S health care system more than $1 billion annually. The risk of syncope increases with age and is becoming more common as the population ages.

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.