Syncope (pronounced SINK-oh-pee) is the medical term for fainting. When you faint, the blood flow to your brain suddenly drops and you lose consciousness, usually for no more than a minute or two.


There are several types of syncope:

  • Vasovagal syncope, or neurogenic syncope, occurs when your heart rate and blood pressure suddenly drop due to an emotional shock. At the same time, the veins in your legs widen, so blood pools in them and too little reaches your brain. As a result, you faint.
  • Situational syncope occurs when you faint in response to dehydration, pain, hunger, intense emotional stress, fear, alcohol or drugs. Even coughing or urinating can trigger situational syncope.
  • Postural syncope, or postural hypotension, occurs when changing positions quickly makes you faint. It can happen when you go from lying down to standing. It’s often caused by medication or dehydration.
  • Cardiac syncope occurs when a heart or blood vessel condition, such as an abnormal heart rhythm, a valve problem, or a blood clot restricts blood flow to your brain.
  • Neurologic syncope occurs when a neurological problem like a seizure, stroke or mini-stroke (called a transient ischemic attack or TIA) triggers fainting. Occasionally migraine headaches trigger neurologic syncope.
Anemia and various metabolic disorders like diabetes can also cause syncope.


If you have syncope, talk with your doctor. He or she will perform a physical exam to see if you have an underlying medical condition. Your doctor may also order diagnostic tests, such as: 

  • tilt-table test (also called a HUT or head-up tilt test)
  • Blood volume determination, which identifies whether you have enough blood, plasma and red blood cells 
  • Hemodynamic testing, which measures how well your body is transporting the oxygen in your blood

Services & Treatment

Your doctor will work with you on a treatment plan tailored to your needs. It may include:

  • Dietary changes (eating more often, drinking more fluids, eating more potassium or sodium, or avoiding caffeine or alcohol)
  • Elevating the head of your bed 
  • Medication
  • Treating underlying conditions such as a heart or metabolic disorder
  • Wearing compression stockings to improve your circulation

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