Help me stop fainting!
May 26, 2009 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Why do I faint at the doctor? How can I prevent this?

Since I was little, I have fainted during medical procedures. I really, truly am not scared of the doctor, or of needles, or of procedures. I don't like passing out, but it's more of an annoyance than anything else.

The most common things I tend to pass out at are eye exams and blood draws. Even having someone put their finger near my eye causes a very visceral physical reaction that I am seemingly unable to control. I've also passed out during pelvic exams and IV insertions. I've gotten 11 piercings and passed out during the first two (when I was little), but none thereafter. Once I got blood drawn and walked up to the counter to pay, and passed out at the counter in front of the entire waiting room, splitting my chin on the counter. I have never passed out outside of the doctor's office save one alcohol-induced incident. I think this may have become somewhat self-fulfilling- I expect to faint, so I often do. That knowledge doesn't fix it though.

The fainting spells look like seizures (I jerk and my eyes roll back), although I have been tested for seizure disorders and am clear). My blood pressure tends to run on the low side, but not low enough to cause concern. My doctors have never been particularly concerned about the fainting once they rulled out a seizure disorder.

I do the following things to prevent it:
-Eat a meal and drink lots of fluids in the day proceeding the procedure
-Try to eat something sugary immediately before a procedure
-Have the doctor recline my chair
-Warn the doctor that I may pass out
-Look away, breathe deeply, and talk to someone to distract myself

Is there anything else I can do? Any ideas about why I'm fainting? I have never been able to get a complete eye exam because of this, and I really need to.
posted by emilyd22222 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pardon the obvious question, but when you pass out in front of your medical professional(s), have you ever inquired of them "Hey, why is it I just passed out in front of you?"
posted by barc0001 at 12:55 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My sister has a habit of fainting whenever she has blood drawn from a needle. In order to combat the fainting, I held her hand and told her to look at me. Also, I talked to her in order to get her focus on me rather than her anxiety and the needle in order to prevent fainting. I made sure that at no point during the procedure would she look at the actual needle or procedure.

Getting focus off of the procedure and on a familiar comforting visual or sound seemed to do the trick.
posted by seppyk at 12:55 PM on May 26, 2009

barc0001, they tend to assume I'm just scared of the procedure, even if I say I'm not.
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:58 PM on May 26, 2009

I do the following things to prevent it:
-Eat a meal and drink lots of fluids in the day proceeding the procedure
-Try to eat something sugary immediately before a procedure
-Have the doctor recline my chair
-Warn the doctor that I may pass out
-Look away, breathe deeply, and talk to someone to distract myself

Have you always done that? You don't faint when you don't do those things, right?--i.e. on the days you don't go to the doctor? Maybe they're not preventative, but causative.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:03 PM on May 26, 2009

I nearly passed out a few times immediately after cutting a finger badly at work. I could tell it was happening each time: my hearing got very fuzzy and my peripheral vision started to blacken until I felt like I was seeing through a pinpoint. Do you get warning signals like these? I prevented it during that incident by reciting my address, the alphabet, phone numbers, people's full names. I can't remember if I said them aloud or not, but I would guess you can ask the person doing the procedure to ask you questions while they do it, maybe providing answers will help stop you keep from fainting.
posted by juliplease at 1:05 PM on May 26, 2009

I occasionally pass out or grow faint during eye exams too, especially when a bright light is shining very close to my eye. The ophthalmologist tells me this is called vasovagal syncope and is pretty common, at least in eye exams. He didn't have any suggestions for making this not happen, but he did reassure me that ophthalmologists are used to it and it's not dangerous.
posted by escabeche at 1:08 PM on May 26, 2009

A friend of mine knew a big Marine who often had to get shots while he was in the service. Big hulking guy, no fear, etc. He never failed to pass out the moment a needle broke his skin. Nothing he could do about it other than warn the nurse and have something to faint into. So it could just be a weird physiological thing you have going on and nothing you can help.
posted by olinerd at 1:09 PM on May 26, 2009

I have had this problem before. I suffer from anxiety/panic attacks and I realized finally that this, combined with vagus nerve stimulation, will send me into a vaso-vagal syncope, aka, I faint.

I see a psychiatrist who has prescribed sedatives, which have cleared up the issue for the most part.
posted by SpecialK at 1:10 PM on May 26, 2009

Yes, this is a vasovagal episode. Your heart slows down, your blood pressure drops, you may even find yourself yawning, right? When you come to, you may have that just-ate-too-much-ice-cream feeling and people tell you that you look white as a ghost or maybe even green.

I get it too. I have the reaction when getting shots or having blood drawn. Its inevitable. I can't help you with the eye exam part, but as for the needle-work, here's what I recommend:

1. Bring a bottle of Gatorade with you. Unless you're having glucose testing and are forbidden from eating, then drink some before and after the incident.
2. Prepare yourself for the blood draw - lie down, pull your knees up, then cross one leg over the other.
3. Close your eyes; don't watch the needle coming. Sometimes I'll even flick myself in the leg repeatedly with my fingernail just to create some other tactile stimulation, to distract me from the impending poke.
4. Afterwards, do not get in a rush to get up. Take your time. Sip a beverage. Once you feel a bit better, then slowwwly sit up, and wait some more.

Its embarassing and a pain in the butt. You can probably never conquer it but you may be able to just manage it.
posted by chicxulub at 1:23 PM on May 26, 2009

It's as escabeche says, a vasovagal response. I used to faint at all blood draws, even though I really like gory stuff. I once hit my head on the way down and had amnesia for a few hours. Cooooool. Anyway, now I tell the blood tech in advance that "I tend to faint" and I ask to either have blood drawn while lying down or to lie down directly afterwards. Five minutes is usually enough. I also bring a small amount of juice or water, which can help rev up my pulse. Anyway, I haven't fainted since learning about the condition and planning for it in advance.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:30 PM on May 26, 2009

I suffer from this when getting jabs, or blood drawn (and am generally pretty ashamed, as it seems like such a ridiculous thing to be afraid of).

The only way I've found around it is to insist on lying down flat (not just reclining a little) while it's being done and for a minute afterwards - trying to tough it out or distract myself or make sure I ate and drank something never worked.

I've had the occasional rolled eyes and impatient sigh but on the whole medical staff are quite happy to find me somewhere to lie down rather than have to scoop an unconscious me up from the floor.

However, I guess that's more difficult during eye exams.
posted by Dali Atomicus at 1:52 PM on May 26, 2009

This happens to me too. And most people believes me when I say that I'm really really not squeamish/scared, that I just tend to faint. (I watched my dermatologist remove a mole from my hip with no problem, for pete's sake.)

I warn the tech and stay put for several minutes afterward, expecting it. When i start getting the telltale black-and-white reverse-negative visual pattern, I put my head between my knees, which usually prevents me from actually losing consciousness. There's a sort of roaring sound in my ears, too -- when it passes, I know I'm okay to sit up again.
posted by desuetude at 1:56 PM on May 26, 2009

Most people DON"T believe me, I mean.
posted by desuetude at 1:56 PM on May 26, 2009

Can you bring a sidekick to your appointments who knows this happens, is sufficiently strong enough to catch you if you fall, and who's not prone to freaking out around needles himself/ herself? It might help to have someone else in the room with you.

Eye exams, especially the extremely bright indirect-lamp-to-the-retina sort, make me lose my sense of where the floor is-- my feet start going up in the air and I feel vaguely ill for a few seconds. Mr. F knows to watch my feet and grab them if they start trying to take off during the exam, which helps me get a grip on the ol' nervous system.

I also second the vote for mild sedatives, which I had for a dental procedure once and was pretty OK with. Note that you will need a sidekick to drive for you in those cases, though.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:02 PM on May 26, 2009

This happens to me, too. In addition to following chicxulub's routine above, I always make sure my bladder is empty before procedures after once having wet myself while unconscious.

On the bright side, fainting episodes have gotten more and more rare as I've gotten older. I'm 40 now and the last time I can remember fainting was around ten years ago.
posted by magicbus at 2:07 PM on May 26, 2009

There are some alternate tests which you can ask for in eye exams -- I fainted once during the bright blue light tonometer test for glaucoma, so my optometrist's office is perfectly happy to use the older air-puff machine instead if I warn them in advance.
posted by nonane at 2:13 PM on May 26, 2009

I almost burst out laughing when I read this, not because it's funny, but because it's so familiar to me. The first time I passed out was when I was sitting in a chair during my brother's eye exam. How weird is that?

Several fainting spells (or near-fainting spells) later, I went through the whole rigamarole of blood tests, and besides having slightly-lower-than-average blood pressure, nothing came back positive. I got the "vasovagal syncope" lesson, and here's what I gathered from it:

-Identify your triggers. For me, it was heat and/or pain. For you, it might be pain, or just some identifiable aspect of the medical exams.

-Identify the symptoms, and learn how to help yourself. The ringing in your ears, tunnel vision, whatever it is. At the first sign of these, do what you can to prevent yourself passing out. Put your head between your knees, take deep breaths, whatever it takes.

-Live with it. You're a fainter. Eventually, it might stop happening, but until it does, you'll probably just have to deal. If you can come to terms with the fact that it happens, you can test your theory that it might be self-fulfilling.
posted by specialagentwebb at 2:18 PM on May 26, 2009

Related, previously. ("How can I stop fainting around blood?")
posted by Dave 9 at 2:20 PM on May 26, 2009

Fainting is usually caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure, so instead of something sugary, eat salt to give your blood pressure a boost. I have the same issues with fainting when the conditions are right. After lots of tests to make sure the problem wasn't something major, I've learned that I am just going to have to live with it.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 2:26 PM on May 26, 2009

Also, if you are insured, i would recommend getting a stress test, doing the heart monitor, EKG, etc. to make sure the fainting is not caused my something more severe. This gave me a lot of peace of mind and allowed me to warn friends/colleagues that sometimes I might faint, but that they should not worry too much.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2009

I'm an undergraduate neurobiology student. Take my advice with maybe just a few grains of salt less than the average person, because I don't have an MD, and there's a few years until I start grad school.

If your blood pressure's low, that'll make you more prone to fainting.

I'd ask your doctor what they think about the fainting and if there's nothing hugely wrong, just live with it. Eat some salty stuff.

Your vagus nerve is probably just wacky.
posted by kldickson at 2:47 PM on May 26, 2009

I get faint during blood draws. My dr. has me recline during the blood draw and then lay down afterwards until I stop feeling spinny and fuzzy.
posted by pluckysparrow at 4:23 PM on May 26, 2009

Holy CRUNK! This is me, too! I reliably fainted at every blood donation--not just a tube's worth during a blood draw at the doctor's office, but a whole pint--until I stopped donating. Also with heat, locking knees, or watching other people's medical procedures--especially those of total strangers. And I love to tell the story of how I've passed out with every one of my 5 ear piercings, including one stint splayed out on the floor of the mall at Piercing Pagoda when I was 12.

Thank you, AskMe, for teaching me about the vasovagal thing.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:45 PM on May 26, 2009

Thank you, AskMe, for teaching me about the vasovagal thing.

Not to be an echo, but yes indeed.

When having blood drawn for testing (a couple of tubes' worth), I find it helps a lot if I don't watch while they're doing it. I also keep my other hand poised (against a thigh or against the forearm of the arm that's being stuck) so I can give myself a sharp pinch if I start to get woozy.

When donating blood, I absolutely don't watch, and I make sure to ask for the anesthetic. The needle they use to inject it is so much finer than the donation needle, it doesn't seem to trigger the vasovagal thing for me.

I still remember the time I went to the blood drive at work (this was 20 years ago). The people staffing it were from our local blood bank, and when I walked in one of them looked at me and called out, "I remember you — it's the dizzy redhead!" *sigh*
posted by Lexica at 8:45 PM on May 26, 2009

I don't have this problem to nearly the same extent. However, I nearly passed out after receiving a vaccine a couple of years ago. Since then, my doctor has insisted that I lie down with my feet elevated for a few minutes after any needle sticks.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:46 PM on May 26, 2009

Yep, that pesky vasovagal response gets me every time. I have a needle phobia partly, I think, because of the fainting business. I have to take anti-anxiety meds when I get blood drawn.
posted by sugarfish at 10:46 PM on May 26, 2009

seconding eat salty food to get your blood pressure up to a normal level.
posted by jrishel at 11:26 AM on May 27, 2009

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