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STARS Patient Information

Reflex Syncope (Neurally Mediated Syncope/Vasovagal Syncope)

Syncope (sin-co-pee) is a medical term for a blackout that is caused by a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain. Reflex syncope is one of the most common forms of syncope. Sometimes called neurally mediated syncope, or vasovagal syncope, it is a transient condition resulting from intermittent dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates blood pressure and heart rate.

Syncope affects 50% of the population but only 1% is affected by epilepsy. It is very important to make sure that syncope and epilepsy are distinguished from each other; a blackout is too often assumed to be due to epilepsy. If you have any doubt, then please look at the STARS Blackouts Checklist which has been written specifically to help doctors and sufferers reach the correct diagnosis for an unexplained loss of consciousness.


These vary from patient to patient and from one faint to another. The most common symptoms are light-headedness, dizziness and nausea. Some people will feel very hot and clammy, sweaty and complain of visual and hearing disturbances. Many individuals become very pale.

Tips to remember if you are prone to syncopal attacks:

  • Avoid becoming dehydrated as this will make you more liable to an attack.
  • The majority of sufferers have their own warning signs that often precede an attack - do not ignore these.
  • If you are able, sit down IMMEDIATELY or, if possible LIE DOWN FLAT AND PUT YOUR LEGS IN THE AIR - for example against a wall or propped up on pillows, and if you can it is preferable to do a cycling movement with your legs.
  • Eat regularly and often as low blood sugar can contribute to an attack. 

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